This was a book that I had seen on a lot of must-read or will-read lists. So when the book club ladies chose this one for the month of February, I was pleased to know that I would get to find out what all the fuss was about.
I live in a region in California where it is densely populated by well-educated and financially well off people, a land of tech companies like Google and Apple. Ironically, like the up/coming cities in the midwest, there are a lot of transplants here in the Bay Area too. The difference is that many of those transplants are from other countries more or so than a few select domestic cities & states like the places Vance mentions. Vance explains that the “Hillbilly transplants” like that of his family in the south or the midwest shared the same culture of the same food, religion, etc.
The book and the author did admittedly remind me of someone and that person’s family that fit the description closely in some ways. And it made me rethink the difficulty of being a transplant as a fellow American rather than as a foreigner. I always thought that being from another country would be more difficult for obvious reasons. But in a place like the Bay Area where everyone seems to be from other countries too, being a so-called Hillbilly transplant makes you even more foreign in comparison.
I also think about the description of these hillbillies not being motivated to work and blaming the government or some outside circumstance of them not having work or how systems that allow people to take advantage of welfare to raise the ever-growing number of children people have that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. In a place like the Bay Area, people come from other countries are hungry to work and work harder in order to achieve the American Dream. Children here are encouraged (and often times forced) by their parents to take AP (advanced placement) classes in high school while also running for class president and training for the olympics in whatever sport they end up pursuing. The bar is set very high and when you’re going to school with other children who reach high, it’s hard to avoid not feeling the pressure to do the same.
The other thing about having a family from another country is that you tend to be raised bilingual (if not, trilingual or with even more languages). So even if you do decide to learn another language in high school (which, in my opinion, should start much sooner) I think it’s much easier to learn a third language. On top of that, children like me were sent to Japanese school on Saturdays. And attending school 6 days out of the week does accumulate over the period of twelve years.
In addition, we had a concentrated 2 week period of Japanese school everyday before being released for “summer break” during the time in which I was often sent to the country of Japan to attend school there until they finally went into summer break in August (schools in Japan usually have only the month of August off in the summer). Since the weekly Japanese school I attended here in the states followed the same curriculum as Japan, we would cover one week’s worth of curriculum done in Japan each Saturday. So whenever I was sent to go to school in the country of Japan, the pace actually felt very slow in comparison.
Needless to say, family background and upbringing can very much make a difference. It makes a difference between coming from a family where they expect you to do better than your previous generation vs a family where there is no expectation. And children watch what their parents (or older role model) do. I have never seen or heard of my parents becoming physically violent with each other and it’s always a bit of a shock for me whenever I go to another person’s family gathering where even a heated argument might arise here and there. So it makes sense that someone like Vance who has experienced the opposite in his family would find it just as shocking to experience a non-yelling, peaceful family gathering.
Even though those of us who live in a place like the Bay Area are exposed to so many different cultures from around the world, it is important to realize that it can be very easy to stay in that bubble very much like it is for so-called Hillbillies to never experience other cultures other than their own.
Here’s to keeping our eyes open,