Dear Montecito: Stella Vie Peters
I don’t often meet other people with the name Stella. So not only was it surprising for me when I was put in touch with the author of today’s letter, but it was doubly interesting to learn that this Stella had also dipped her toe into the waters of journalism. Two Stellas, same industry? Stanley Kowalski would riot.
Today’s letter concerns one Stella Vie Peters, 17-year-old Montecito transplant and creator of the social justice publication Folding Chair Magazine. Like many letters in our “Dear Montecito” collection, Stella’s piece examines the power of connection during COVID-19. She emphasizes the importance of engaging with others’ ethos and what it means to connect with an experience that isn’t our own – two values we try to honor every week in this column. I truly couldn’t be more pleased to share both an ambition and a name with this lovely young woman.
My family and I moved here last November after almost 18 years of mom’s stories. I’d grown up hearing about her life here, working at the Biltmore in college, attending UCSB, and spending weekends at Butterfly Beach. I’d always dreamed of what life on the Central Coast would be like.
It’s safe to say that Montecito is a place where expectation and reality are never far apart. In just a few months, I could understand why my mom had spoken about this place so often. I quickly grew accustomed to the sweet hum of Coast Village Road and the new garden growing in our front yard. Being able to move to this magical place has been such a gift. And the fresh tomatoes weren’t bad either.
I feel so lucky to be a part of this community, especially during these unique times. When COVID hit, having access to the surf and a space to breathe was the ticket to my mental health, even if our connection with others became somewhat changed. My mom and I exchanged homemade biscuits with our lovely neighbors and Facetimed every person in our digital Rolodex, but not being able to hug friends or extended family, see my boyfriend, or be part of the collective whole in a physical way was tough. So I decided to get to work in pursuit of connection. For two years now, since I was 16, I’ve been gathering stories for publication. My privilege to live in Montecito, with a roof over my head, nourishing food, and health allowed me the space to foster something important to me. The inspiration for this project and the space I found during the virus allowed me to finally bring a desire for social change to fruition.
Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to the United States Congress, once said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” In light of this quote, I named my publication Folding Chair Magazine. My goal is to bring people together through an understanding of each other’s values and passion. When you read someone’s story in Folding Chair, it is my intention that you come away with an understanding of the author’s ethos and be able to articulate where their passion comes from. I want you to feel inspired. So, while we can’t hug each other yet, what we can do is work to empathize with and understand each other. Being able to understand each other’s stories creates a sense of empathy that I hope will persevere long past the impact of the pandemic. To encourage this, I’ve curated the stories in my publication to reflect themes of connection, collaboration, and heart. In the magazine, you can read about a women’s empowerment collaboration with artisans in Côte d’Ivoire, a chemistry professor’s hope for the young people that will soon inherit the earth, a college student’s cultural journey as a Salvadoran-American moving to Brooklyn then to the suburbs or Utah, and many more. You can follow this change-making journey on Instagram @foldingchairmag and @stellapeters_. Please purchase a copy of the magazine on our website (foldingchairmag.com), knowing that 100 percent of the profits are donated to Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative.
I came up with the idea to start a magazine like this one while taking a walk at Rincon. I was lucky to already know so many people with strong voices and a willingness to share them, but I would definitely say that there was an aspect of vulnerability associated with reaching out to new people, as a young person, and making it clear that this publication would be a safe and reverent place to tell their story. Many people said yes to writing while some said no. I had to get used to the ebb and flow of the process and honor the shape the magazine began to take. I realized as people responded to our questions about their lives and projects in their written stories that, although I was in control of the direction of the magazine, the attitude and depth relied on the contributors’ wisdom. Through this process I learned when to step in to lead and when to step back and listen.
As we’ve witnessed through the Black Lives Matter movement, the world is rife with injustice. This cannot be righted until we cultivate a sense of mutual respect and understanding. We must understand that leading and listening can only exist in a conscious relationship with each other. That is how equity takes root.
I hope that living in Montecito, against the backdrop of sunsets and swell, we can acknowledge and use the opportunity that we have to be a part of the landscape of change. Let us join this awakening and begin to sow the seeds of change that will one day flourish like the tomatoes in my garden.
Stella Vie Peters