Appalachia today

Since World War II, Appalachia has been incorporated into America in more tangible ways. Highways and chain stores now dot the mountainsides, as infrastructure improvements finally have reached even the most remote sections of the hills. Floridians buy vacation homes in the mountains of North Carolina to escape the summer heat, while mountain-born youth flee the hills to find their fortune in urban America. Yet in many ways the legacies of the 1930's are still with us. Mountain handicraft stores still produce goods, but their stock is based upon what people will buy, and not necessarily what the locals used to make. Bluegrass musicians still play music festivals, yet their repertoire now often extends into rock-and-roll tunes and they must negotiate with major-label contracts. The music and crafts of Appalachia - its "folkways" - have turned into commodities for the rest of America.

While we may no longer be searching for a distinct Anglo-Saxon heritage, we nonetheless long for a shared past. The mountains of Appalachia and its residents have provided one important connection in this pursuit. Yet we must acknowledge that Appalachian culture once upon a time was allowed to develop on its own, without the need to universalize its characteristics into a national litmus test. The appropriation of Appalachia should remind us of these cultural constructions, and warn us against the exploitation of a region to satisfy a search for identity.

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