Why I moved to Texas

·17 min read
DALLAS, TX - Homes and open land near downtown Coppell, a suburb of Dallas, Texas. New college graduates, young working parents, mid-career professionals and Elon Musk are among the big wave of Californians who have moved to Texas in the last three years. Reasons are myriad. Job loss, cost of living, and taxes are a few of the tick marks you see on surveys, according to the Associated Press. (Hunter Lacey / For The Times)
Homes and open land near downtown Coppell, a suburb of Dallas. (Hunter Lacey / For The Times)

New college graduates, young working parents, midcareer professionals and Elon Musk are part of the big wave of Californians who have moved to Texas in the last few years. The reasons are myriad. Job loss, cost of living and taxes are a few of the boxes you'll see ticked on public surveys.

As Californians pack up and head east, Texas seems to receive them with open arms. I spoke with 10 former Californians about the good, the bad and the just-plain-unexpected they found in the Lone Star State.

Gabriel Becerra, 30

“I’m Latino and gay, but there haven’t been any instances where I felt like I wasn’t accepted.”

I’m a first-generation Mexican American on my dad’s side, born and raised in Southern California. I moved to Dallas in February 2020.

I work for a major airline, and an opportunity opened up here in Dallas to become an instructor. I got lucky, because once the pandemic hit, the company began furloughing employees at the lower level. My family in Southern California is a big part of my life. But I didn’t see myself staying there — I felt like my personal growth needed to happen outside of where I grew up.

People are really friendly here in Texas. I remember the first time I went to a grocery store here, someone started chatting with me. I genuinely felt threatened until I realized they were just making conversation. I’m not used to having friendly neighbors. And people are very proud to be from this state.

I’m Latino and gay, but there haven’t been any instances where I felt like I wasn’t accepted. I hang out with my co-workers. I joined a darkroom co-op. It can be hard to make friends as an adult. But I do feel like people pay more attention to you here. I play flute and violin. Since moving to Texas, music has been very cathartic. It has offered solace during uncertain times.

I would tell anyone that if you have the slightest inkling to make a change, do it. There’s never going to be a right time. If you decide to make a big life change, you’ll find a way to make it work.

Stephanie Bontron, 39

“I miss my family and the smell of the ocean. That’s it.”

I was born in Marseille, France, and moved to Southern California with my parents when I was a teenager. I met my husband working in the hospitality industry.

When I moved to a new country, I looked for French people. I found friends in Los Angeles and San Diego. I still live as a French person; my daughters are raised in a French way. I cook as much as I can for them. We eat every meal together as a family at the table. I speak to them in French.

My family moved to Dallas in 2020 for my husband’s work. I was not that impressed with Dallas at first, but now I see that Texans are down to earth. They’re not spoiled. Californians are spoiled by the best weather, great food, beautiful houses and the ocean. Here, we deal with heat and tornadoes. And even if people have money, they don’t show it as much. But there’s guns. I’m still afraid of guns.

But you can have fear anywhere in the world. We live in a calm area here. In California, we couldn’t afford a home with a pool. We couldn’t afford to keep my daughter at the dance studio. When we arrived in Texas, it felt like life continued as normal. Some of my friends from California even moved here too. But you have to schedule time to see people — the kids are busy, and suburbs in Dallas are very far apart.

I miss my family and the smell of the ocean. That’s it.

A man with clear glasses sits near a white wall with frames
Gabriel Becerra sits in front of a self-portrait at his apartment in Fort Worth. (Hunter Lacey / For The Times)
The Drummond-Clay children help their mom, Arica, bake on a Sunday afternoon.
The Drummond-Clay children help their mom, Arica, bake on a Sunday afternoon. (Hunter Lacey / For The Times)

Arica Drummond-Clay, 45

“By the time summer had passed and school began again in the fall, my commute time doubled.”

I was born in Southfield, Mich., and moved to Northern California in 2004. As an African American woman, it was really hard to find a community in the Bay Area — a church, a hairdresser, even a friend group. I did meet my husband there, but when we had kids, we started talking about Texas.

We moved in February 2018, and by the time summer had passed and school began again in the fall, my commute time doubled. That signaled to me how many people moved to north Texas. All my research about the area said it was family-friendly, and I’ve found that to be true. My daughter is 8 now and my son is 5, and we have the opportunity to do a local activity with them every weekend if we want to. Our disposable income compared to California has made a huge difference. And I’ve been able to find more diversity here. My family has found a core group of friends so our children know people who look like them. And everyone in our community looks different, has different personalities — and that’s how the world is.

In California, my parents lived with us in 2,500 square feet. Now there’s only four of us in 4,500 square feet. My kids enjoy the space, the park at the end of the block, the backyard with the swing and the pool. And the schools are great. My husband has a son from a previous marriage whose private high school education in California cost more than my college degree. Here, we know our kids will get a top-notch education while going to public school.

And we moved at just the right time. Pricing skyrocketed after we got here, and is continuing to rise, so this will likely be our home for a while. I’m grateful we got to Texas when we did.

Louie Garabito, 29

“I experienced massive culture shock when I first moved…You could tell I don’t belong here by the way I talk.”

I was born and raised in Los Angeles. I moved to Texas a year ago, and I’ve had my ups and downs.

In L.A., I was denied a raise at work and the cost of living was going up, making it hard to stay in California. The little things started building up. My family actually moved to Texas in 2015 — I was the only one who stayed. But I just couldn’t justify it anymore.

My family was always telling me, “It’s so good over here, it’s so peaceful, and the cost of living is so low.” I started thinking seriously about moving. I made my decision in October 2020. I wanted to act instead of continuing to dwell on it.

Now I live in Freeport, just south of Houston. I’m living with my parents, helping them remodel the house. My commute is an hour long, but I did find a job in the electric industry, managing deliveries and clients. I’m thankful to have this job. I started college, but never graduated. The recession hit my family hard in 2008. As the oldest son in a Mexican family, I dropped out to earn money and put my siblings through college instead.

I experienced massive culture shock when I first moved. The open countryside made me feel out of place. And you could tell I don’t belong here by the way I talk. I did meet a few people who were hostile toward me, but the majority of people have welcomed me with open arms. They say, “You’re a Texan now.” Despite the Texas stereotypes, there’s just a lot of kind people trying to make the best out of their lives. I also met my girlfriend, Adrianna, in Texas. She has been the best thing about moving here.

In L.A., I had my favorite restaurants and bars, and there was a blend of cultures. In these small towns of Texas, people are very isolated in their cultures. The politics are very different here. You might butt heads with people, but if you take time to talk to others, the stereotypes fade.

Stephanie Bontron's daughter Claire plays at their family home.
Stephanie Bontron's daughter Claire plays at their family home. (Hunter Lacey / For The Times)
A structure and a large, leafless tree are seen in a small field.
A view of Gabriel Becerra's neighborhood. (Hunter Lacey / For The Times)

Ian Kammerer, 33 & Lindsey Shiomi, 36

“I had the perception that everyone was so proud to be a Texan. And I was proud to become a Texan.”

Ian: I tried to become a firefighter for eight years. In California, it’s extremely competitive. One of my co-workers was in the same predicament until he applied to be a firefighter in Dallas and quickly moved out here. So I applied in Dallas too, and within four months, I was hired. There were 13,000 applicants in Los Angeles County when I applied. Here, there were maybe 1,000.

Lindsey and I had only been dating for a couple months. I told her that I was moving to Dallas — unsure how she would feel about it. But a couple months later, we were in a moving truck. It was 2021.

Lindsey: I was working in higher education and had this window of opportunity to start working remotely. So I moved for love!

We kept checking in with each other, asking, “Does it feel like an adjustment?” And we kept answering, “No, it feels like home.” We live in the city. We can walk to Trader Joe’s. It doesn’t feel much different from walking in downtown Pasadena. Ian has his friends at the fire academy, and I ended up getting a new job in healthcare. Everyone’s been so welcoming and friendly. Dallas is a place we could see ourselves staying in.

Ian: The fire academy feels like family. There are 30 guys from different backgrounds coming together, so you get to hear different stories and realize we’re all working toward the same goal. In fact, half of us are from California.

I had the perception that everyone was so proud to be a Texan. And I was proud to become a Texan. We’re planning on getting married, and it’s important to us that we get married here.

Chevis LaBelle, 26

“I’m happy in Texas. I found a solid group of friends. Nobody cares about what you do.”

Before the pandemic, I was developing film and TV projects for an indie studio in Los Angeles. As a woman from Garland, Texas, who came from humble means, it meant the world to study film at University of Texas at Austin. When my first Hollywood internship turned into an executive position less than three years later, I felt like my career was on the right track.

But midlevel executives were the first to go when the pandemic layoffs started. On the day I got the call, I was sequestered in my studio apartment during social isolation. To go from the constant socialization required of my career, to not talking to anyone but myself all day — I was going crazy.

The job loss was devastating. In 2020, I left packing boxes at a friend’s house before road tripping to Washington, Colorado, Mississippi, and finally, to Dallas, where my best friend had a spare room. A brief stint in the service industry paid the bills, even though it was the worst time in history to be a server. However, I feel like the pandemic showed people that you don’t have to be in L.A. to work in the industry. And I’m happy in Texas. I found a solid group of friends. Nobody cares about what you do. In L.A., the first question anyone asks you is, “Where do you work?”

I’m heading back to Austin to begin a short-term contract with a film festival. One day, I hope to launch my own production company that pays employees fairly and serves underrepresented voices. For now, I'm enjoying this new path.

A couple sits on a couch.
Ian Kammerer, left, and Lindsey Shiomi in their apartment in East Dallas. (Hunter Lacey / For The Times)
Chevis LaBelle cleans and repots her plants in her kitchen in Dallas.
Chevis LaBelle cleans and repots her plants in her kitchen in Dallas. (Hunter Lacey / For The Times)
A woman with a cross bag and surrounded by branches walks forward
Kenia Waller goes for a walk in her neighborhood. (Hunter Lacey / For The Times)

Kenia Waller, 52

“When I was growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, there was a concerted effort for people to be culturally educated. In Dallas, they almost avoid it.”

I was born and raised in Sacramento. It’s one of the most culturally diverse and integrated cities in the United States. I always loved the city and the schools are good, so I raised my son there. In 2016, the company I work for moved their corporate headquarters to Dallas. When I visited Dallas on business the next year, everyone was treating me like Beyonce. I called my sister immediately and said, “We gotta move to Dallas.” When I was offered the opportunity to relocate to Dallas after that business trip, I jumped on it. We packed up and moved three months later. It reminded me of California at first.

But in the Dallas area, people are diverse, but not integrated. From neighborhoods to schools to friendships, it feels very tribal. My son is in his 20s now and still living in Sacramento, but I can’t recommend that he move here with me. He’s used to having friends of different backgrounds, ethnicities, and cultures. California celebrates diversity in the way that Texas just doesn’t.

My sister and her now 12-year-old son — my nephew — moved here with me. And my nephew has friends, but not many are African American, and there’s a lack of cultural sensitivity. It’s kind of shocking for me. When I was growing up in the '70s and '80s, there was a concerted effort for people to be culturally educated. In Dallas, they almost avoid it.

Of course, the cost of living here is fantastic. The schools are good and so is the city’s infrastructure. There’s not traffic like in L.A. and there’s plenty of restaurants. But people should know that if you move to the suburbs, you can have this big house, but there’s a level of isolation.

I know many different people who’ve moved here and feel the same way. But the question is, where else would we go? I saved five figures in taxes by moving to Texas. I can’t afford to go back to California. So we will see what happens.

Andrew Whitthorne, 31

“The one thing we miss is the ability to get in the car, drive four hours, and end up somewhere that’s completely different and beautiful in nature.”

My family bounced across the country following my dad’s sportscasting work before landing in Texas. While I was in college, I longed for California and its mountains, beaches and opportunities. My wife, Lauren, and I moved to Los Angeles after graduation. I was pursuing a modeling and acting career and Lauren was teaching fifth grade in Beverly Hills. She was born to teach. In the oversaturated modeling market, I took odd jobs until I earned enough commercial work and an agent.

After seven years, we wanted to buy a house but couldn’t afford anything in our neighborhood. And the energy in the air was off. You have a lot of people in L.A. who are chasing big dreams and not getting what they want, and they’re frustrated and sitting in traffic and it’s just hard. It’s an isolating city, hard to make good friends. Once we had our first child, we decided L.A. wasn’t where we wanted to raise a family. So in 2020, we moved to Dallas.

The modeling market is different in Dallas, but you can work with it. I was nervous to tell my agent about the move, but to my surprise, he was happy for me. I know a lot of people in the industry that are leaving California. I think people can be a lot happier and just as successful.

My continued career combined with the more affordable cost of living and stability for raising our daughter has made us feel happy and at home in Texas. The one thing we miss is the ability to get in the car, drive four hours and end up somewhere that’s completely different and beautiful in nature. There’s no better landscape than California.

A couple holds their baby in an open doorway.
Lauren Whitthorne, Andrew Whitthorne and their daughter Stella stand in the doorway of Andrew's parent's home in Coppell, a suburb of Dallas. They are currently house-hunting in Dallas. (Hunter Lacey / For The Times)
A close up photo of a woman with long black hair.
Tonya Youseffi in her apartment in uptown Dallas. (Hunter Lacey / For The Times)

Tonya Youseffi, 26

“In California, most of my community was Persian. The population felt more diverse.”

I was a sales manager at Pelican Hill Resort in Newport Beach, but during the pandemic, the hospitality industry went down the toilet. The whole sales and marketing team was laid off. Having the rug pulled out from under me changed my life. I’d been living in California for so long where everyone around me was trying to get rich as fast as they could. That’s just not my personality.

A contact reached out to me from Dallas, and said he needed someone with my skills on their recruiting team. There was one condition: I would have to leave California, my family, and life as I knew it. I said, ‘“This is the time for me to change.”

I had never stepped foot in Dallas except for an airport layover years ago. But my mom and I packed my bags, got in the car, and drove 20 hours to get here. It was the best decision I ever made.

Every time I go home to California, people say to me, “You seem different. You have a different energy about you; you’re more confident, more driven.”

I often think that California looks beautiful on the outside — the people are gorgeous, the landscape is unmatched. But I felt like once you scratched the surface, it lacked substance. People dream about going to California, and the thought of leaving never crossed my mind. But the cost of living isn’t meant for people like me. It’s not meant for a new college grad on a starting salary. And now I’m succeeding at my job here in Texas.

I do miss my family. I’m Persian, and very connected to my culture. In California, most of my community was Persian. The population felt more diverse. Here in Texas, people always ask me, “Why is your hair so dark? Where are your dark features from? Where are YOU from?” When I tell them I’m from California, they give me that look and say, “No, where are you REALLY from?” And I’m always surprised when I overhear Farsi spoken in Dallas. So that’s the only part I will say is a bit off. I’m very proud of my culture.

Steps lead to a home in a neighborhood in McKinney, a suburb of Dallas.
Steps lead to a home in a neighborhood in McKinney, a suburb of Dallas. (Hunter Lacey / For The Times)

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.