It’s the 4th of July, and I’m making Italian Sausage and Penne Pasta in a town that is known as, “The Most Trumpian Town in America.”
About 8 months ago, during the 2016 US Presidential Election, I found out that, I, like many other West Virginians have Italian ancestry. I took an Ancestry.com DNA tests and was thrilled to see that I had some ancestry of color… even just a little bit. I think my DNA showed 6% Italian and Greek DNA. Who knew? The rest of my DNA was from Great Britain, Ireland, Scotland, Scandinavia, France and Germany, the expected countries of origin for my region and family. But, I was so excited to see the Italian and Greek DNA show up because it was unknown and unexpected for my family. I told everyone that I carried all of my Italian/Greek DNA in my mouth as I love Italian and Greek food… and cooking.
I posted the DNA results to Facebook, and my “truly” Italian friends (those who identify as Italian culturally) immediately said, “Welcomes to The Family!” Over the next month, they posted several Italian, “Family” memes to my page. I posted photos of my Spaghetti Carbonara and homemade Spaghetti Sauce! We enjoyed the jokes, and I enjoyed the acceptance into “The Family,” even though I was only 6% Italian. That’s the kind of interaction and acceptance I’ve become accustomed to in this small town.
Even though I live in a small Appalachian community, Italians are accepted here… now. Italians, originally, immigrated here around the turn of the 20th century to work in the coal mines. Early Italian immigrants weren’t always welcomed in WV. They were scorned and ridicules much as modern-day immigrants are. However, after years of working together with local miners and other immigrants, Italians became an “accepted” and integral minority in WV. They brought culinary prowess and work ethic that are still celebrated today.
Two months ago Elizabeth Flock, from PBS Newshour, came to our community and wrote an article that sent electrical currents across the political divide. The article was titled, Buckhannon, WV: A Woman’s Movement Grows in the Most Trumpian Place in America. In the article, Flock featured three women from Buckhannon. One was my sister, the other two my friends. These women have taken up arms — to hold signs against Trump and his policies — in “The Most Trumpian Place in America.”
It was the Mayor of Buckhannon, David McCauley, who was quoted as saying the town was the “Most Trumpian Place in America,” in Flock’s PBS article. The name stuck.
PBS wasn’t the first National News outlet to focus on Buckhannon, WV. Prior to Flock’s article there were other national articles pointing to this — “most Trumpian town.” The national media did not miss the irony of the fact that our town was the home of the 2006 Sago Mine Disaster that caused the nation to hold its breath for three days while we waited to discovered if 13 coal miners trapped beneath our feet were alive. The national media incorrectly reported that the miners were alive, which went “viral” in the national news, pre- Facebook, before local officials corrected the media. The fact was, only one miner lived. Twelve miners died trapped beneath the ground while the nation watched and waited, unable to rescue the men in time.
The irony: Shorty after President Trump’s election, he appointed, Wilbur Ross, founder of the International Coal Group, the owner of the fated Sago mine, as his Secretary of Commerce. However, the Trump supporters in Upshur Co. were not deterred, somehow making exceptions for Trump that they would never have allowed for another president.
In a nutshell, Buckhannon, WV has become an odd spectacle… a strange specimen on a slide for political scientist, historians, and journalist; an oddity, due to our voting habits and different perspective on life. Then again, we have always been that odd spectacle. West Virginians and Appalachians have always been the red-headed step-child of America. Why is the national and international media listening to and watching what happens here today… in Buckhannon, WV? One simple answer: Trump won. Why did Trump win? He told people what they wanted to hear. In WV, the magic words were that he would “put coal miners back to work.”
The local result: : A new group calling themselves the Upshur County Resistance which, as its stated focus, opposes Flock’s portrayal of Buckhannon, WV as an intolerant town and the “70 women” involved in the activism. However, the three women featured in the article are often named and ridiculed as well as Flock, for being a fly-by-night reporter. The right-wing group has approximately 119 members. The posts on the page are often aggressive, full of half-truths and, misguided, much like President Trump. The “70 Women” in Flock’s article have formed multiple groups with, between 200-300 members… and they aren’t just women anymore. Since the PBS article, NPR Germany has also taped and aired segments regarding the division in the town. Letters and support from around the world have poured into this little town for the activist featured in Flock’s article, even some funds and grants.
I’m happy to say that my Italian Facebook friends, who are Trump supporters, have not joined the so-called resistance group, nor have we unfriended each other on Facebook. They post pro-Trump memes; I post anti-Trump memes… but, we are still friends. We refrain from commenting on each others political posts; we simply ignore what we don’t agree with; we agree to disagree.
But, the pot is simmering…
— Tonight, on the 4th of July, I have a pot of delectable tomato sauce, seasoned with fresh tomatoes, sweet green bell peppers and hot banana peppers, garlic, onions, oregano, chives, and basil from my own little Appalachian garden on the stove.. The ingredients, placed in the pot, are simmering. I cook it low and slow for hours before I add the Italian Sausage.
Just before dark, I put the pasta in the boiling, salty water and gather a fresh salad from the garden and place garlic bread in the oven. As I finish cooking, I hear the fireworks begin. I take my plate outside, stick my fork in it and watch the the fireworks go off!
Later, I’ll post pictures of the final meal on Facebook, lit up by the fireworks overhead. My Italian friends will like it and comment. We will enjoy each others posts and continue as we always have, as friends… but, sometimes, I wonder if they understand that the cook pot and the melting pot are the same… and the pot is simmering.