Remember those old Pace Picante salsa commercials?
Where one redneck character can’t believe another redneck character is trying to compare something made in good old San Antonio to something made in New York City?
New York City?!
What do those fools know about the good stuff? They wouldn’t know a real piece of sweet corn if it was sticking out of their ear. We laughed a lot at that.
We laughed a lot at movies where city types and elitist yuppies and, god forbid, “horse people” would come to work on a real farm and get manure on their face pretty quickly. The out-of-touch antics of Pauly Shore in Son in law, Billy Crystal in City Slickers, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus and her insufferable, emasculated husband in National Lampoon Christmas Vacation served as subtle warnings. Your kind is welcome around here — but not without first being served a lesson or two about the real world and real, good, honest, hard-working people.
They don’t make those in New York City either.
It’s a subtle message that evolved but remained on my radar as I got older. The movie Sweet Home Alabama is the story of a career woman who finds her true purpose, the meaning of life and what really matters on a trip back home. She eventually leaves her high-profile corporate ladder climb behind for scaling trees on Sundays after church.
There are plenty more like that. The storyline is formulaic. For feel-good warm and fuzzies about family, insert one unhappy city person who gets a wakeup call that life is about more than paychecks and high-rises. It’s pretty much the only theme of the Hallmark channel from now until January one.
Life is better in the country. Or wherever your parents, family, or childhood crush are.
I’ve always believed that to be true, and still do to some extent. Hardened mud made of milk and bloody lips is the foundation on which my whole life is unapologetically built. I watch those stories awkwardly knowing that’s me — still waiting on that great epiphany.
Maybe I already had it.
College is where I first met other rural refugees. It was the first time I was ever surrounded by any real diversity of skin color, idea, class and sexuality. In 2004, when Facebook was still just for us kids in state schools, I had the relative privacy of finding my way through the ideals and archetypes that present themselves during that stage of development. Figuring out who I was and wanted to be wasn’t a completely isolated affair, but it was insulated more than it is today.
In that landscape, the seed was planted with my own softening hands that I probably was never going back to a small town. I think I had been holding on to that seed, keeping it warm in nervous palms, for a long time, earning all the trophies I could before college because I wanted those I loved to have something to hold on to when I broke their hearts soon enough and stayed gone.
This recent presidential election result has stirred up this division again. I’ve managed to emotionally straddle between small town Home and big city Apartment the past eight years. I think a lot of people like me thought we all were making progress, that things were getting better and the unsettling feelings of not totally fitting in to our hometowns were starting to subside.
This election was a reminder of why I don’t live there. Unsurprisingly, it’s a similar feeling that so many of the people who voted for Trump conversely say about where I live: we don’t feel like those Other places are places where our values can thrive.
I just turned 30 in March, so maybe that’s why this feels especially devastating. I’m ready to settle down, dig my toes in somewhere. I hadn’t necessarily considered moving back to small town Ohio from Chicago, but it wasn’t completely off the table. Many a Millenial is feeling the same way: As of March, a higher percentage of them than ever are buy homes in suburban communities. I think we’re trying to find a balance.
A country childhood is idyllic. Time is continuing its slow turn of the vice grip, forcing me to make a decision about where to land, and whether we want to have a kid or not is a big part of that. I have a perception I just can’t shake about how unfair it would be to raise a kid anywhere other than the country, surrounded by siblings and cousins and cornfields under whose protective stalks to run and fall and do it all over again until the moon is high and the fireflies dance. I have a nostalgic gif of childhood running through my brain.
This election has reminded me of an uncomfortable truth: I still feel fractured between these two worlds. Like the crack between the sidewalk and the dirt path. I know this pain is not comparable to that of real refugees, or to the people who don’t feel safe or welcome moving to those communities to even try to see if they like it. But it’s mine nonetheless.
There seems to be this huge misconception about what “enough” actually is. Life is harder in the city. You pay higher rents, higher taxes, higher transportation costs. It’s hard to own a home, to own land, to own a car. Pretty soon, I quite literally will walk a mile in the snow every day to get to work. I’m sure there are many, many people who live here who would like to get out if they could, but there are economic and social factors alike that prevent them from doing that.
How do we help, beyond the tangible legal steps to stop racism and inequality? We stop the narrative that the people living in these two worlds are so different.
There’s no white working class—there’s a working class.
There’s no uneducated voter—there’s a voter who is not a college grad, but that makes them anything but dumb.
There’s no silent majority—those who we’ve been calling that in recent days have had plenty of representation throughout history.
There’s no one demographic that works harder than another—you don’t need to be doing physical labor all day to be a worthy American martyr.
If I don’t like it, I can “just get out.”
Well, I did.
So did a lot of others.
When truth and justice are sacrificed for order and legacy, a distant ache I’ve been able to ignore for the last eight years recalibrates.
But eventually we’ll have no where left to turn but each other.
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