Family ties, love of land help define Appalachians


Abby Vitatoe

Abby Vitatoe, Contributing Columnist

I have been raised in a small community with a big reputation. I have been raised in the deepest roots of Appalachia: the place where you can find cornbread and soup beans in gas stations. The place where you can trust to leave your doors unlocked, and the place where you have strong kinships. Appalachia is recognized as a region of poverty and low education levels by non-Appalachians, but the region is difficult to understand unless you grew up here, Life in Appalachia is beautiful and is much more than a “resource curse” like outsiders label our home. What makes up a true Appalachian can be summed up several ways. 
Being Appalachian means having strong kinships to not only to family, but to friends and citizens in the community. In Harlan County, everyone knows everyone. The blood that connects you to family is strong, but even if you aren’t blood related, you are still family. Being Appalachian means always having a table to sit at each night for dinner, even if it’s a neighbor down the road. The love for every community member is so strong that we come together to provide food for a family who has experience a death in the community — that is strong kinship.
You think we have a fear of outsiders? It’s only because this is our home, and these are our people and we’ve been taken advantage of by outsiders for generations. 
Coal mining runs through the deepest roots of Appalachia. It is our livelihood. Being Appalachian means watching your grandparents, uncles or fathers come home every morning with the blackness of coal overtaking their skin. I’m Appalachian because I appreciate coal, and I appreciate the men who have worked their entire lives to provide electricity for my community. Being Appalachian is also accepting the sadness of coal mining, the tragic loses of husbands, fathers, grandparents and uncles…it is also accepting that you are never promised if your family member in the mines will have a job day by day. It’s also the sadness associated with losing the coal industry itself, as it continues to flounder due to newer and cleaner energy resources.  
Being Appalachians means also adapting the true, strong southern Appalachian accent. It also means having a strong sense of religion, love of the land and patriotism. In Harlan County, you will spot a church on just about every street. Religion is very important to our small community in Appalachia because it is part of Appalachian culture. Appalachians also have a strong love of the land, which means we love our settlement and prefer to stay where we live instead of moving. Appalachians adapt to their land and prefer to not have change in moving away. My Papaw grows a garden every year and cans the food he gets from his garden, because he has a strong love of his land and provides our family with the canned food every winter.  
So, what makes you Appalachian? It’s the strong family ties — to the community and land. Of course, these are only a few things that makes an Appalachian, but these traits live strong in the Appalachian roots.
You may see Appalachia as the poor, uneducated region in the world…but this is my home, and I am proud to be from Appalachia. 

 (Editor’s note: Abby Vitatoe is a student in Tami Brock’s English 102 class at Harlan County High School and wrote this essay on growing up in Appalachia as part of a class project)