From New York to West Virginia
When I started working at Cardinal in May, and being from Upstate New York, I had little firsthand experience with West Virginia. I knew a fair bit about the Mountain State’s history, geography, and some of the current issues. I pride myself on being informed about history, geography, and regional culture of both our nation and abroad. In my time living in Louisville, I met a few people from Eastern Kentucky and encountered the unique culture of Appalachia. During my time in West Virginia, I reflected on the challenges rural communities face regarding how they view themselves along with the struggle to be civically engaged to ensure prosperity for future generations.
This past month, I took my first “real” trip to West Virginia. I drove through the state a couple times before, but of course that doesn’t count. I spent my first trip to West Virginia in Charleston. As I’m sure many Mountaineers will tell me, I still have a lot left to experience. I certainly still want to experience the mountains, national parks, and small towns that West Virginia is known for.
First Impressions from an Upstate New Yorker
Charleston left me with a good first impression. Everyone I met was friendly, and the downtown area seemed secure and clean compared to other cities. Charleston felt like a city shaped by people who know how to survive in harsh conditions and who want to live on their own terms while possessing something of their own. I felt this as I patroned many local, small businesses. These people are not likely to get rich on these endeavors, but seemed to take pride in having something of their own where they can call the shots.
When I first got off the plane in Charleston, I was greeted by my Lyft driver who asked me where I was coming back from. To this man, the possibility that I was visiting West Virginia was not plausible. This interaction spoke to me about how Mountaineers view themselves.
The rest of America often looks down on West Virginia. This reality has led to a poor self-image of many Mountaineers. As someone from New York, I can empathize. I am from Upstate New York. So, mountains, small towns, and pepperoni rolled in dough (we call it a calzone) are something that I can relate to. Many Upstate New Yorkers are also frustrated with how they were overshadowed by New York City. For us, we do not have a bad reputation because we are not even seen at all. Many of us also leave our home out of necessity. I left ten years ago when I was 20.
What I can take away from my childhood in Upstate New York and my visit to West Virginia is that we as citizens need to be engaged in the welfare of our state. Failure to do so may mean that living prosperous lives may become untenable for future generations. Likewise, good civic engagement might lead to a community where our children can prosper while setting an example for other communities on how to cultivate prosperity.
Nate Phipps is the Communications & Social Media Associate for the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy.
Learn More About Upstate New York
Nate joined us on the Forgotten America podcast to share about Upstate New York.