In the News: “The Homecomers”: Those staying and investing in their rural communities

“To find a more accurate vision of these United States, we must resist pat narratives about any group — including the working class on whom our current political situation is most often pinned. The greatest con of 2016 was not persuading a white laborer to vote for a nasty billionaire with soft hands. Rather, it was persuading a watchdog press to cast every working-class American in the same mold. The resulting national conversation, which seeks to rename my home “Trump Country,” elevates a white supremacist agenda by undermining resistance and solidarity where it is most urgent and brave.” ~Sarah Smarsh. “Liberal Blind Spots Are Hiding the Truth About ‘Trump Country’“. The New York Times, 19 July 2018.

A NEW podcast focusing on rural American lives and promoting rural America’s future launched on Apple Podcasts today! It is titled:
The Homecomers with Sarah Smarsh.”
After listening to “The Homecomers” episodes 1 and 2, I wanted to find and read Smarsh’s book. A local library had a copy!

It is also created by the journalist quoted above, Sarah Smarsh. Smarsh, a journalist, is also the NYT Bestselling author of Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, released in September 2018. As written on the podcast’s website, her subsequent podcast program, “The Homecomers” invites listeners to “Join [her] in conversation with six champions of places that society would have them “get out” of–“homecomers” preserving and strengthening the vibrancy of small towns, rural lands, and misunderstood communities that headlines say are dying.”

For me, the first two episodes of the podcast were a reminder that ethnic and cultural diversity exist in rural Americain some places more than in others? Yes, but it was also encouraging to be reminded that there is diversity in rural America, including diversity in ethnic and cultural groups living rural lives (e.g. black farmers). Bonus note: A recent NPR 1A episode discussed several rural communities across the nation experiencing stabilizing or growing populations thanks to increased numbers of immigrants settling in their communities.

The episodes were also powerful in their formatting as first-person testaments to growing up, learning, maturing, valuing, and ultimately choosing to remain and invest in their rural community. As a female of color, I found it encouraging how the first two interviewees were 1) an African American woman from the Black Belt region of the South, Dr. Veronica Womack, and 2) a daughter of Mexican-American farm laborers, Leydy Rangel, who immigrated to the United States with her parents when she was a child.

Today, these women continue to dwell and invest in the rural communities that shaped their lives from an early age; they are scholars, activists and leaders. I encourage you to listen to, or read, both episodes in their entirety. The quotation below, from Dr. Womack’s interview, excellently articulates a major reason why:

When Smarsh asks how Dr. Womack would respond to media headlines depicting rural America hopeless, as “dead”, she replies:

“I would say to those folks that you don’t know the Black Belt. …I would say don’t give up on places that you are not knowledgeable about. Take the time to look at those places, not the deficits of those places, but what are some of the assets of those places? And change that narrative. Because their narrative is not true. “ ~ Dr. Veronica Womack. “On the Richness of Rural and a New Generation of Farmers.” The Homecomers with Sarah Smarsh. 3 September 2019.

As an African American female (and one wanting to move to Vermont at that!), I know I agree with Sarah Smarsh’s statement that “we must resist pat narratives about any group.” As Dr. Veronica Womack encourages, let’s “take the time to look at those places”, the “places that we are not knowledgeable about.” Join me in listening to people tell their story from their own lips.

Sources:

Smarsh, Sarah. “Liberal Blind Spots Are Hiding the Truth About ‘Trump Country’. The New York Times, 19 July 2018, nytimes.com/2018/07/19/opinion/trump-coporations-white-working-class.html. Accessed 3 September 2019.

Womack, Veronica. “On the Richness of Rural and a New Generation of Farmers.” The Homecomers with Sarah Smarsh by Sarah Smarsh. 3 September 2019, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/episode-1-the-richness-of-the-black-belt/id1475686403?i=1000448445907. Accessed 3 September 2019.

Copyright © 2019 A.M. Wilsonne

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