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Buenaz, Appalachians -

For so many of us in Appalachia, it is within our home (hogar in Spanish) that we pass down traditions and rituals to our children to carry on. The literal translation for the word hogar is “hearth” and “fire.” By the time I was eight years old, I knew what lit my fire. It was music! 

Growing up Mexilachian — Mexican and Appalachian — in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, my childhood hogar was unlike all the others in our home town. As I navigated through my youth, trying to find my place between both cultures, music became the source of warmth and inspiration I needed to light my way.

I came from a working class family. At home, I shared my bedroom with three female primas (cousins) who never let me live down the fact that I was half gringa (white girl). In the boys room was my brother and two or three male primos. There were nine or 10 of us in a three-bedroom, one-bathroom house. My father worked as a machinist in a clothing factory and my mother cleaned houses and moonlighted as a seamstress.

At home, there was the Chicano culture, transplanted from El Paso, Texas, with Spanish spoken most of the time. And at school, it was the all-English, rural country culture of the valley. As I walked these cultural roots between home and school every day, un puente (a bridge) was being whittled away beneath me that stretched across two distinct identities that couldn’t have felt any more different from one another. 

As the years rolled on, I felt like I lived on that bridge and that I could never fully become part of the culture on either side. It felt awkward. I felt half everything and fully nothing. Tethered to this puente, I could only walk so far on either side before I felt like I was a living, breathing mannequin of cultural appropriation.

But then music found me, and it filled me like nothing ever had! At the ripe age of eight, I saw the magic of music happen while singing for the very first time in front of my church community. Nervous and with my eyes closed I took a deep breath and sang—

It is better to light just one little candle, Than to stumble in the dark! 
Better far that you light just one little candle, All you need's a tiny spark! 
If we'd all say a prayer that the world would be free, 
The wonderful dawn of a new day we'll see! 
And, if everyone lit just one little candle, 
What a bright world this would be!
~ “One little candle” by Perry Como


As I sang the last note and opened my eyes, the expressions on people's faces moved me like nothing ever had. There were people clapping (which never happened in our church), people crying and people smiling at me in a way that filled me with joy. 

In that moment, I knew music was for me. That it was a powerful tool, a light that could help me build bridges between cultures. And I was determined to become that bridge. 

Hasta la proxima friends,

~Estela

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