Being Appalachian is a strange concept. It means being a part of a culture that is made up of all races. It means being a part of a culture of hardship, religion and community. It means living in situations where gas, clothes and food can be rare commodities to be treasured. This is what Appalachia means to me.
Community is sacred in Appalachia. The ties you form here last your whole life, and they may be the most valuable things you ever have. Here in Appalachia, people are bound together by common goals. Here, relationships last long and die hard due to being formed out of hardship or by blood relations. Both are equally as strong.
Appalachians never forget the people who help them, and we repay that debt every chance we get. Helping people is woven into our blood. Even the poorest of the poor are willing to give.
In Appalachia, poverty is an old friend, and everyone here is affected by it. The mountains and many failed economic boosts have led Appalachia and the people who live here to accept a poor economy and fragile infrastructure as part of their regular, daily lives. The coal and all of our industry left a long time ago. Everyone in Appalachia has marks and scars from trying to change things or provide for their families. For some it’s coal-stained lungs, or arms scarred from dangerous machinery. For me, it’s red, cracked hands from the work my family needed from me.
In Appalachia, nature is a double-edged sword. We connect to it and it provides resources for us, and it helps us get through hard times. Nature also traps us here, preventing us from leaving for something better. It halts any kind of help we would receive from outside our mountains. Nature is beautiful here and helps to give people peace of mind, but it also contains poisonous plants and snakes. Many people have learned to adapt to this dangerous duality, and now it’s just part of our culture.
In Appalachia, pills are the second most popular currency. Everyone needs pills, either for easing their pain or their family’s pain. Some people get addicted and would give the shirt off their back just for another bottle. Drug use is a complicated and rampant problem in Appalachia, and overdose is the cause of numerous deaths per year. This is a sadder side to our culture.
In Appalachia, there is a community called Harlan County. This is where I have grown up and witnessed all of this and so much more. I have seen both the best and the worst of people, and here I have met people who have shown me the greatest sense of compassion and love. I have come to love the best sides of my home, and to hate its worse sides.
All of these things will impact me for the rest of my life. All of these things are what being Appalachian means to me.