On Capri Suns, San Ramon and good neighbors


Ivana Chen

When was the last time you introduced yourself to a neighbor? Offered them cookies you baked or helped them out with some work?

Grace Zhao, Opinions Editor

I can always remember watching “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” as a kid. Mister Rogers would come on screen in his cardigan and polished dress shoes and start singing: “Won’t you be my neighbor?” He had a soothing voice and all, but looking back now, I feel like the biggest thing I miss from that show was how easy it was to take for granted the neighborliness of Mister Rogers. He exuded the simple kindness and welcoming joy that a neighborhood was meant to feel close together.

Now, in San Ramon — it would be nice if we were all a little more like Mister Rogers.

When I moved to San Ramon from Maryland the summer before eighth grade, I didn’t think “neighborliness” was particularly important to lead a good quality of life. But thinking back on my time in Maryland, I took my old neighborhood for granted. 

It’s not that San Ramon is filled with hostile neighbors. People are pleasant. We smile, nod, walk on. But sometimes I walk around the neighborhood and think of all the Spanish-style houses painted lovely ochres, pinks and browns, and though the genericity of it all makes me grind my teeth, it’s the fact that adjacent houses feel oceans apart that really saddens me. Houses on the same block feel like strangers in a far cry from the kindly messages of Mister Rogers and Sesame Street. San Ramon is a wonderful place to live, full of great individuals, but it is not neighborly.

One reason for the lack of neighborliness may be that San Ramon’s cultural groups already provide a safe outlet for friendliness and familiarity. We have Chinese moms’ WeChat circles (not sure of their emotional safety), Filipino dance groups and Korean American fellowships. 

Our town’s diversity is evident on school grounds, in parks and community centers and in a myriad of cultural festivals — basically, whenever people are out and about. But back in homes, this diversity hides itself behind shuttered windows and fenced backyards. It seems like the dream combination for a town to be both diverse and close-knit, yet San Ramon as a community feels more disparate than unified in its unique heritages and backgrounds. 

When everyone works together to forge that community bond, the security within such a neighborhood is more precious than median home values or perfect sidewalks and streets

It might seem fine to simply coexist. We’re all amicable people anyway, and you don’t have to bond with all your neighbors to be a good person who will probably help if something comes up. Individuals already find security in the gatherings of cultural groups. San Ramon has progressed pretty steadily this way, so is it really necessary for our neighbors to unite?

There’s a better question we should ask, though: did you know some Capri Suns have clear bottoms? I have this distinct memory back in Maryland of being in my neighbor’s house while my grandma was rushed to the hospital. I don’t know how I ended up at Nithya’s house, only that I must have been hastily dropped off once my parents knew they would be heading to the ER. Her parents gave us Capri Suns to drink, bright silver bags with clear bottoms. Intrigued by the novelty, she and I would tilt the juice bags up to see our straws swirling around in the murky orange liquid. If I had gone up to the second floor and looked out the window, I would have seen the ambulance parked on my driveway. I wasn’t worried, though. I knew I was in my neighbor’s home, and that was enough to make me feel safe.

A neighborhood bond transcends gossip and traverses crises. It was a different neighbor who first welcomed my mom to our house in Maryland. That neighbor showed her a path through the surrounding woods that led straight to the park, convincing her the house was the right one. These are neighbors who help clear the junk out of the basement after it’s flooded by the summer rains. Neighbors who don’t judge when sirens descend, but show other family’s children that Capri Suns have clear bottoms and who leave cookies on their porch the next day. 

I recognize that it’s hard to put yourself out there as “that” neighbor. What’s next, going door to door with homemade lasagna? But when everyone works together to forge that community bond, the security within such a neighborhood is more precious than median home values or perfect sidewalks and streets.

Being neighborly won’t be the next Fortune 500 invention to revolutionize Silicon Valley, and it won’t suddenly cure all of our woes here at Dougherty. But what if families harbored each other’s kids in times of need? What if children knew each other’s names and nicknames, chalked them in the street, taught one  another how to fly on the playground swings?

What if we introduced ourselves to new neighbors and showed them the hills and the cows, the mustard flowers cropping up in spring, the volcanic sunsets that swallow up the summer sky?

We could show them the wonderful community of people who don’t fit into a single category and don’t need to, show them that everyone is welcome not just in spirit or principle but in action and sincere smiles. Show them that two square feet of backyard is still enough to grow a beautiful garden in, show that the fence won’t stop you from chatting about your day, or even invite them into the house to reveal the pure and simple fact that some Capri Suns have clear bottoms. Through all this, we make one thing clear: we all live on the same street and are glad to call each other our neighbor.