What is Appalachia, and why should you care?

Since the election, media organizations from The Guardian to CNN to The Washington Post to the BBC have dropped into Appalachia in a quest to make sense of what, for many, seemed to take the world by surprise.

We were less surprised. Dubbed Trump County, USA and The Heart of Trump Country during the 2016 election, West Virginia came to represent ground zero for the rise of Trump.  100 Days in Appalachia was created to take a closer look at just what makes this region such a flashpoint for so many of the social, economic and political fractures in American communities. If we are indeed “Trump Nation,” Appalachia’s story is now America’s story.

While the world is busy asking what the election tells us about our divided nation, we’re asking: What does Appalachia tell us?

All the things.

We take a new look at America’s opioid crisis, which has decimated whole communities in West Virginia, but has also highlighted the markedly disparate response to addiction between rural white communities and communities of color. What does a Trump Administration’s take on criminal justice reform or repeal of the Affordable Care Act mean for community-level responses to addiction?

The tensions of our global economy can be seen within Appalachia’s coalfields. We reveal Trump’s promise to West Virginia miners to resurrect coal may be heard as more a cultural affirmation than an economic commitment, and that many in coal communities are okay with that.

We take a look at the rise and fall and rise again of populism and how that maps onto cultural, geographic and racial divides. We’ve covered the far right’s attempt’s to gain an audience and devotees in Pikeville, Kentucky at a recent rally.

We’re also looking at how cultural identity and political identity are aligning in new and unexpected ways. Our 360° series Muslim in Appalachia provides a window into what it means to navigate both Muslim and Appalachian identity, while challenging stereotypes of both.

We are also calling out the accelerated myth-making attempting to codify America’s political and cultural divides in the wake of the election. We suggest these complicated divides deserve a closer look. As one of our editors observed of the election: Democrats didn’t have a rural problem; they had an everywhere-but-the-nation’s-largest-cities problem.

We’ll listen, and ask the world to listen with us, as diverse communities in Appalachia respond to cabinet picks, policies, and promises made. And we’ll do some soul-searching while we’re at it on the role media plays at building, or eroding, trust in journalism.

Appalachia’s stories are rich and complex. So are America’s. When we tell them honestly, filter bubbles cannot contain them. We’ve assembled a team of editors and contributors who can help make sense of Appalachia for the world…because we call this region home. If you think you already know what we are going to say, we hope to surprise you.

Dana Coester, Executive Editor 

100 days, 100 voices.

Sara Berzingi is one of the first faces you’ll meet in a series of Appalachian portraits. Born in Erbil, Iraq, Sara and her family left for Kurdistan as refugees through operation Pacific Haven, which brought them to the United States in 1997. Sara and her family have called West Virginia home for a decade. She considers her family’s story a classic story of “the American Dream,” but wonders, “What does the American Dream mean now?” Photograph by Nancy Andrews


Sara is part of the 360° video series Muslim in Appalachia that narrates what it means to navigate Muslim and Appalachian identity while challenging stereotypes of both. She speaks to feeling like an outsider in Iraq and and an outsider in America when people of both worlds inevitably ask her, “Where are you from?”

“I think I’ve thought about my identity a lot more than other people, just because with each time I’m asked that question, I have to reflect on it…what do they want from me. Do they want me to tell them, yes I live in America, that’s why my Kurdish sounds more American, that is probably why you’re asking me where I’m from. Or yes, I do wear a headscarf on my head, and I probably don’t look like your stereotypical American, but I’ve lived here since I was about 4 months old. I’m not sure how I can get much more American than that.”


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This article was originally published by 100 Days in Appalachia, a nonprofit, collaborative newsroom telling the complex stories of the region that deserve to be heard. Sign up for their weekly newsletter here.