In light of the new reality TV show BuckWild on MTV… I’ve been musing about what it means to claim my identity as a West Virginian. The answer is Yep. I’m from West Virginia. Who wouldn’t want to be… look at the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains (you probably said that wrong, but I forgive you)?! But, my home town doesn’t look like that (but that’s not far). It’s simple and it is unassuming. I grew up in a small town by most standards, but it is the city where I’m from. My town will never forget the plane crash of 1970 that changed the rules for NCAA football: allowing the “Young Thundering Herd” to play as freshmen for the first time in the history of college football. My town knows everybody’s business. My town floods every time it rains because the sewage system is old. My town is 5-7 minutes from 2 other states. My town balances history and the present with a budding eye to the future. My town is home.
Many people say to me “Oh, I would have never guessed you were from (pause) West Virginia!” or “You don’t sound West Virginian!” or “Where is West Virginia/ you mean Virginia?” or ” But you’re so smart?!” Come on, ya’ll. It is just like being from anywhere else. Also… if you don’t know a) West Virginia is a state or b) where it is… I’m pretty sure it’s not my intelligence or that of “Appalachia” that should be questioned. There are 50 states…there was a time where we all learned this.
It’s true…I don’t sound “West Virginian” or “Appalachian” (even other West Virginians have called me out on this). But… I do. Especially when I really care or get really excited. It’s also true that I don’t work in a coal mine (didn’t even grow up in a coal town), have a toothless smile, live in a holler’, and I don’t ride ATVs or partake in huntin’ season. But… those things are not really a definition of place or a people, now are they? I’m not a stereotype.
But, I grew up on the same street until I moved 12 hours away from home… even when I moved out I lived on 10th Ave. Family can define a place. Familiarity can define a place. Mountains can define a place. Speech can define a place. West Virginia is a place, and its people are beautiful, kind, smart, welcoming and frequently rooted in tradition.
So why did Buckwild make me think about this, again. Well, to be honest, I was worried about how and what it would portray. I think it was a poorly shot show (much like a home video vs. other MTV reality shows) and does one really need subtitles for the characters? But ya know what… a lot of the “ridiculousness” that happened between the characters: eviction, love triangles, going to the club, fighting etc. are kind of staples on all MTV shows. I mean… those are pretty common story lines among 18-25 year olds. Do all West Virginian’s act like this? No… but some in that particular demographic do. Muddin’ is a real thing. A dump truck swimming pool is kind of genius, I don’t care who ya are. The landscape really is that pretty. The power plant really does empty its waste into the rivers/creeks (Maybe something will be done about that now that it was on MTV). People that live in WV really do love being there (like some of them established). But Oh, lordy, they sure upheld the stereotypes. But…isn’t that what The Jersey Shore did? Isn’t that what every “Real Housewives of ____” does for a location and a group of people? Yep.
But my claim to my heritage is unwavering. My West Virginia is different than the stereotype. My Appalachia (it’s okay.. you’ll be able to say it right sometime) is warm, welcoming, and filled with family not spectacles. It’s an identity that I don’t want to erase. It informs my position, what I do and how I do it. Being an Appalachian woman is something to be proud of that cannot be tarnished by a TV show or a set of stereotypes. Just because I left doesn’t mean I wanted to escape West Virginia. I left because that is part of my path.
So, what. I did leave…but it didn’t leave me; it is a part of me.