New York is not America. L.A. is not America. Chicago is not America. Get in a car and drive three or four miles away from any major city and that little town you end up in with billboards supporting local school sports and the local regular hanging out by the cash register at the gas station that is America.
These words aren't my own but those of a man who came to the United States to go to school. And, I couldn't agree more. The large cities that everyone can rattle off aren't true representations of our country. The true heartbeat of America is emanating from her small towns all across the country. Small towns just like those in Northeast Michigan.
The real America can be found in the place where an entire community comes together to support a neighbor who is battling cancer; where even those who don't know the person contribute. The true America is witnessed at the ball field where the young outfielder digs a hole in the dirt with his shoe as the sun sets over the tree line. The authentic scenes of America play out when a shop owner flips his sign from "closed" to "open" as the rain drenches a corn field just a few miles away.
On our honeymoon we met another couple from Ireland who said, "Oh, we've been to the United States. We visited Dallas. Love the hats you guys wear." At the time it was difficult to explain that Dallas, or any other large metropolitan area, could be described as a homogenous gathering of people and buildings or as a subculture, but couldn't be generalized as an exact representation of our country.
I do appreciate what large cities have to offer but my heart belongs to America's small towns and here's a few reasons why:
There are a lot more reasons but I'm limited as to how many words these columns can include and I still have an important issue to address. That issue is our pride and self-esteem. Despite the major improvements made in the past few years there are still people in this community (including prominent members of the community) who speak poorly of our town. They repeat the things we've all heard before, "Why did you move here, there's nothing going on?," "People in this town are just plain backwards," and "Oh, that's a nice idea but it will never happen here." How can we so easily dismiss the worth and potential of our community?
This isn't to say that all large cities are void of good things or good people, it's just different; more anonymous and generic. Every small town is unique and has a story that reflects why it exists today and the residents embody bits and pieces of that story. Many small towns have forgotten their stories or purposefully ignore them in hopes of becoming more like a Chicago or a New York or some other secondary metropolitan area. This is their detriment. Our community is different. We're beginning to embrace the reasons why we exist today and we're beginning to bring that back to front and center. And the last thing we need are people speaking negatively about these efforts.
First, let's admit that we've all done it. I know I have. As a young adult I couldn't wait to get out of town. Leaving town to create new experiences or opportunity is one thing, but getting out of town because you think "this place sucks" is another. As supporters of this community I believe it's our job to circumvent the negative attitudes, not participate in the spiral, and remind people of the incredible value small towns provide.
If you're proud of your community, proud of the values you embody as a member of a small town, and proud to continue the tradition of small town living share your passion with others. World globalization and economic pressures threaten small town America every day and it's up to us to keep America's heart pumping.
Mary Beth Stutzman's Inspiring A-Town runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays.