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November 27, 2016

Rural America, I am Sorry.

 

Ryan McGuire/Gratisography

Dear Rural America,

You’re probably surprised to hear from me because we’ve never really met. I’m from Chicago and have lived in the city for a majority of my life. Chicago is only a few hours drive from you, but it’s always felt like worlds away.

I’ve had brief encounters with you. When I was young, we’d drive to my grandparents’ summer home in Wisconsin or the “the farm” as we called it. (It was not a farm.) We occasionally fished and I have a few memories of picking carrots and feeding cows at the neighbor’s house. But, mainly, we spent our time at the water parks in Wisconsin Dells.

It fit the stimulation we were used to.

I guess I know you best from the times I’ve driven through you. What I remember is the desire to quickly get past you to my destination. And speeding tickets.

Since I hadn’t had personal interactions with you, what I knew about you mainly came from media and movies. I will never forget the documentary Borat and its portrayal of ignorant, racist, radical blind faith Christian rural Americans. I could not believe this existed in America—the same America I lived in.

The rural America portrayed in this documentary was more foreign to me than the 25 foreign countries I’d visited. It seemed that I had more in common with people on the other side of the world than with you.

Based on the limited biased information I had, I judged you, harshly.

This was contrary to my values and habits. Compassion and connection were my foundation.

I worked and volunteered all over the world and spent time in some of the most violent inner city areas with causes and people who became family. I could be a champion for anyone, except you.

You see, I judged you harshly not only because of the information that was fed to me, but also because a part of me expected you to be like me. We lived in the same country and even looked relatively similar. From what I understood, you were different from me, which seemed threatening.

I shut down. I couldn’t learn about your perspective or struggle.

Rural America, I am sorry.

I am sorry I bought into a stereotypical narrative of you when I hadn’t taken the time to get to know you.

I’m sorry I thought I was better than you.

I am sorry I thought my opinion mattered more.

I’m sorry for those instances when I heard “white trash” or “hicks” and didn’t call it out as negative.

I am sorry I was so out of touch that when I looked at that map on election night I was even a little surprised to see a block of red in the Midwest with one blue state in the center reflecting the city I live in.

I am also sorry I am clumping you all into one group writing this to “rural America.” I know each one of you is completely different and that there is no one identity as rural America.

Rural America, I see you. Well, I’m starting to see you. I see that you care about your community and this country. I see that there is love all around you. Maybe we have a few differences, but I want to learn from them. I have a few differences from my neighbors here in the city too. Two things I already absolutely know:

1. We are much more similar than we are different.

2. We are equal.

Would you be up for taking a walk and getting to know each other? I’ll come to your place. I could use some nature and clean air.

Huge hugs,

Kim

 

Author: Kim LaPaglia

Image: Gratisography/Ryan McGuire

Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

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