I recently visited my beloved Nana and Grandad at their home in rural Kentucky, the place responsible for me saying “lightning bugs” rather than “fireflies.” Before leaving, I overheard various jokes and assumptions made about my grandparents and their hometown by my classmates who knew nothing about my family. However, this is no unusual occurrence. Many people in our community, especially young people, hold negative feelings towards people living in a certain region in the United States (the south) regardless of the personalities or beliefs of said people.
During my visit I found myself invested in J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, which gave insight into part my family history, along with the point of view of people whom those in my community may consider mere hillbillies. Taking trips to visit my family in Kentucky and hearing the point of view of someone from a different walk of life allows me to see that the stereotypes commonly held about southerners by young people living in Silicon Valley are not all true.
I grew up in California but I loved spending my summers in Kentucky with the Tinsley clan as a kid, and growing up, I never knew there was a difference. As I have matured, I have sadly been fed false stereotypes and derogatory assumptions about people like my grandparents, who are, by the way, the sweetest and most accepting people you will ever meet. I strongly believe that nobody should let stereotypes dictate their feelings towards a group of people, whether that be minorities or old folks living in the South. Removing yourself from your comfort zone and exploring places that you’re not used to in everyday life, like rural Kentucky, is beneficial to fight biases and preconceived ideas about various places.
Since it was my first visit to Kentucky in a few years, I was nervous about what I was going to witness as I drove around the state with my father. However, I was pleasantly surprised. I was able to use the swings in a trailer park playground, attempt to buy an RC Cola from an abandoned soda machine, examine a crawdad’s home, and witness a tiny cemetery full of twenty or so Tinsley relatives. During my trip, I covered vast amounts of land and only saw one confederate flag bumper sticker, which, to be honest, is probably less than the amount owned by some edgy teenagers here in Los Gatos.
I cannot express enough how important it is to give everyone a chance to prove their humanity instead of blindly assuming things about their life and character. So get out of Silicon Valley if you hold any automatic, negative feelings towards a group of people southerners or otherwise, and talk to them, or listen, or watch. People are almost never as bad as stereotypes make them out to be.