Dear Montecito: Parker Matthews

By Stella Haffner   |   July 2, 2020
Parker Matthews

Two months deep into quarantine, it quickly became clear how seriously my social skills had atrophied when I picked up the phone to call the home of Brett Matthews and Ginger Salazar. I had the intention of asking whichever parent picked up the phone if their son, the MUS, Marymount, and Cate alum Parker Matthews, would be interested in being the first person featured in my new column. But the phone rang. And rang. And then it rang out. When the tone for the voicemail sounded, my well developed language skills seemed to seep out my ears as I proceeded to reverse the name of my would be interviewee (referring to him as “Matthews Parker”), attempted to explain the concept of being between the ages of two people (referencing my chronological relationship to Parker and his younger sister, Grace), and then concluded the voicemail by forgetting to leave any contact information for myself. After leaving what I wager to be the most disorganized voice message that’s ever graced the Matthews’ family phone, I sighed, knowing I’d surely have to find someone else to feature in this week’s edition of “Dear Montecito.”

Knowing this, you understand my elation when I found out that Parker was in fact willing to be featured. And the 20-year-old NYU Art History student did not disappoint, demonstrating a thoughtfulness, even in our brief emails, which is echoed in his open letter. Parker believes that “art is the truest form of expression” – something which rings clear in his observations of our small town, and indeed, the larger world.

Dear Montecito,

My name is Parker Matthews, and I was asked to give a sense of who I am. To be completely honest, this is a daunting task. After leaving NYU during my Sophomore Spring due to COVID-19, and spending the last 13 weeks at home, I’ve come to appreciate the strength of our small town.

Growing up, I knew that Montecito and Santa Barbara were both magical places. There are few places in this world where you can find beautiful mountains and beaches only five miles apart. At Montecito Union, I always tried to pick a desk near the windows so I could stare at the green hillside or the perfectly kept organic garden where I would end up spending many recesses. Many people believe that Santa Barbara and Montecito are these beautiful places devoid of issues and struggles; however, over the last several years, our community has faced many challenges. Before I reached sixth grade, my family lived through three fire evacuations. I remember my little sister, then in her early years at MUS, running outside in glee that it was snowing. In fact, it was raining snowflake size ashes from the Jesusita Fire. Yes, Montecito is idyllic, and everyone’s hedges are pristine, but we do not live in a perfect bubble.

During my senior year of high school, on my eighteenth birthday, my family packed up and evacuated to Northern California to escape the Thomas Fire. I’m not sure if you have done this, but after evacuating, I always reflect on the items I packed. Excluding clothes, I brought my six yearbooks from Montecito Union, two from Marymount, and three from Cate. I also brought my Chinese-to-English dictionary… Honestly, I have no idea why I grabbed this because school was canceled, and the only time I used it was when I spent a summer in China. Random, right? I’m sure we all brought important and random things, but who knows what to grab when you only have a couple of hours to get out of your house.

Shortly after returning from our evacuation, we were met by the 1/9/18 Debris Flow. While we are all too familiar with these tragedies, I’d like to focus on how our community came together to support and uplift one another. It’s always hard to express my feelings and emotions when it comes time to talk about these two tragedies. We all know friends and families who have lost lives and homes. When the earth moved on January 9th, our foundation as a community shifted. We were uprooted, and our lives were truly turned upside-down.

To say that our town of Montecito is resilient is an understatement. Speaking from my own experience and personal trauma, it was not easy driving on certain roads and talking to friends from out of town about what occurred. The things I would share were stories of the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade and the Partnership for Resilient Communities coming together to help neighbors and strangers recover lost belongings, clear debris, and help mitigate the potential for future debris flows. I witnessed thousands of people coming together in our community to help rebuild. It takes a lot of empathy and selflessness to put others’ needs in front of yourself, but our community continually worked together to uplift each other. We learned a bit about ‘grit’ in Mrs. Bachman’s MUS classroom, but sometimes you have to experience things to learn about how to be resilient. In looking back, this community has been very supportive of helping others. In elementary school, I worked with a group of students to support the Orkeeswa school in Monduli, Tanzania, and every individual that contributed was beyond generous.

I’ve spent the last two years at NYU, and the transition from a small town of ten thousand to a city of many millions was not the easiest. Of course, I was well prepared for NYU’s academic curriculum, but finding my people and my place in the city took time. NYU preaches being ‘in and of the City’ and a ‘campus without walls.’ Through your experience, you will learn grit, resiliency, and graduate after four years as a stronger person. The risible thing about NYU’s desired outcome was that my small town back home taught me the same lessons that New York City and NYU sought to teach me. Our community of Montecito showed me how to get back up and continue to move forward, carrying yourself with empathy and compassion.  

I moved to the city to expand my mindset and secure a more global perspective without realizing all that this community had already taught me. NYU and NYC have taught me a great deal about myself and moving to such a dynamic place has pushed me to grow in other ways, but I couldn’t be equipped to learn without the experiences shared and people met in Montecito.


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