Last Friday, NPR had a story about John Edward’s new war on poverty. In that segment, they had a commentary by a guy from rural Kentucky about the economic state of the area. His point was that the part of Kentucky he is from has been experience a depression for quite some time, that while the country as a whole is worried about a recession, some parts of the country have been experiencing very difficult times for a while now.
He said there were no jobs where he is. But that his family has been in the area for 100 years or more and that he doesn’t want to leave the area. Which got me to thinking, isn’t it his choice then to be poor? Clearly, there isn’t much economic opportunity in his part of Kentucky. But he sticks it out there nonetheless. However, he could easily move to another part of the country where there is greater economic opportunity and maybe turn his life around.
I understand the romanticism attached to his ancestors’ home. But, it seems to me, sometimes, you have to move past that if you want to have a future. You have to move past the past of your ancestors and think of your future.
I can only relate to the experience of my dad in this. He grew up in a rural part of the Basque region of Spain where the majority of people lived by substinance farming. There were some industrial jobs, such as a local paper mill, but they had to travel by bus 30 minutes to get there. My dad’s family lived in the house where he was born for several hundred years, maybe upwards of 300-400. However, my dad realized that there wasn’t much economic opportunity there and, at the age of 18, left Spain to come to the United States, a land where he knew nothing of the language nor customs of the people. He took work as a sheepherder, a grueling job that found him alone, or with possibly one other herder, in the mountains for months at a time. Eventually, though, through hard work and a willingness to improve his lot, he found better and better opportunities until he was owner of a small trucking business hauling hay in the southern Idaho region and the surrounding areas.
The point is, my dad realized that there was no economic possibilities where he grew up and he made a choice, a huge sacrifice, to improve his place in life. This seems to me to be the embodiment of the American dream. He was never successful beyond his wildest dreams, but he made a life for himself that was better than he could have imagined back in Spain.
So, while I sympathize with the guy in Kentucky, I also think it is his choice to live in such hard economic conditions. And I find it odd that we seem to romanticize this attitude, this behavior, while, in some sense, demonizing those immigrants coming to America to try and better their life. Again, these guys, both the legal and illegal, sacrifice a huge amount to try to improve their economic situation. They are the American dream. I wonder what the ancestors of the guy in Kentucky would think, if they could look in on their descendants. Those ancestors made the sacrifice, moving west to create a new life, giving up the comfortable situation they may have been in for the promise of something better. Would they be proud that the children of their children are staying on the homestead, or would they want those descendants to embrace the same spirit and move on and find their own future?