She never heard people bad-mouth Appalachia until she left. Now she's making a film in response.

"Where ya from?" is a question Tijah Bumgarner got a lot after she left her home state.

"West Virginia," she'd reply, when she was waiting tables in Los Angeles and folks noticed her accent. And she knew the follow-up before it was asked. "They'd joke around like look down to see if I was wearing shoes and of course ask me if I'd married my cousin."

"They'd joke around like look down to see if I was wearing shoes and of course ask me if I'd married my cousin."

After a while, the 20-year-old started to respond with a prepackaged quip. When asked where she's from, she'd say, "West Virginia, but I have all my teeth and I'm wearing shoes, so don't bother asking about that."


It was an understandable defense mechanism — making fun of herself before anyone else could — but looking back, Tijah says she never "recognized what that really meant or that I was really just perpetuating this stereotype in a way."


Tijah moved to California in her 20s to attend film school. Image courtesy of Tijah Bumgarner.

Stereotypes of Appalachians as "helpless hillbillies" are pretty common — and they've been around for centuries.

What are the dominant stories that come out of West Virginia and other parts of central Appalachia these days?

On the one hand, you've got plenty of movies and shows about ignorant, backward, and "other" mountain people. Like the "Wrong Turn" series of six (yeah, SIX) movies about inbred, cannibalistic hillbillies in West Virginia.

Those types of stories can be traced back to the late 1800s, when travel writers from the North would come to the mountains to write what was essentially fiction about the isolated people there who were oh-so-against progress.

Poor, white sharecroppers in Appalachia, circa 1936. Image by Walker Evans.

This narrative took the fact that folks were living off the land and twisted it around against them — because surely anyone who doesn't want their land stripped away from them for resource extraction must be against progress, right? Right.

And then, of course, you've got news stories heavy with tragedy: chemical spills, poverty, drug use, mine disasters.

"Of course it's sorrowful. Of course we're losing a lot. Of course they're blowing up mountains. But there are other things happening too."

Appalachia is certainly known for its stories about coal mining. Photos by Mario Tama/Getty Images, altered.

"Of course [the stories of devastation] are important," Tijah stresses. "But they're not the only stories. Not everything has to be just about devastation, about sorrow for our land. Of course it's sorrowful. Of course we're losing a lot. Of course they're blowing up mountains. But there are other things happening too. So even that's pushing this narrative of helplessness in a way."

This summer, Tijah's working on a new kind of story: one that's simply about growing up.

Her story is a simple one, a relatable one, and maybe even a cute one, about a 14-year-old girl growing up in Tijah's hometown of Meadow Bridge, West Virginia.

A road sign coming into Meadow Bridge. Image courtesy of Tijah Bumgarner.

"People can definitely relate to it. It's a universal coming of age story," says Tijah. "You have this awkward 14-year-old girl who's made fun of at school. So what I'm adding [to the narrative] is like, hey, kids that grow up here, we go through the same things as [everywhere else]. Sure, we may think we're a little different, but really, we all kind of go through these things. Y'know, we all have a crush, we all have a first kiss. I'm hoping that people can relate to that."

Tijah as a kid growing up in Meadow Bridge. Images courtesy of Tijah Bumgarner.

Tijah knows that there's no way "Meadow Bridge" could single-handedly reverse all the stereotypes people have about central Appalachia. No one story could do that.

But she hopes that adding to the discourse may help create something different. "At least," she hopes, "it's a drop in the bucket."

"Sometimes telling a simple story is a revolutionary act."

Help make sure "Meadow Bridge" comes to life! Support the Kickstarter campaign here:

Editor's Note: To sign the petition started by Hannah Lee and her fellow students, click here.

"I promise nobody cares at all. Let us have our fun and stay away from our school pride," was what I was told when I asked a school-pride Instagram account if they would share a petition on educating students on Cherokee culture.

This is one of many interchangeable conversations that take place on the topic of honoring Native American people. My school showcases a singular problem that stems from a larger issue of negative societal views and perceptions; there are so many accounts of other political and economical impacts that take place because of the constant cultural appropriation and stereotypes that are said about this ethnic group.


Keep Reading Show less
Mozilla
True
Firefox

When I found out I was pregnant in October 2018, I had planned to keep the news a secret from family for a little while — but my phone seemed to have other ideas.

Within just a few hours of finding out the news, I was being bombarded with ads for baby gear, baby clothes and diapers on Facebook, Instagram and pretty much any other site I visited — be it my phone or on my computer.

Good thing my family wasn't looking over my shoulder while I was on my phone or my secret would have been ruined.

I'm certainly not alone in feeling like online ads can read your mind.

When I started asking around, it seemed like everyone had their own similar story: Brian Kelleher told me that when he and his wife met, they started getting ads for wedding rings and bridal shops within just a few weeks. Tech blogger Snezhina Piskov told me that she started getting ads for pocket projectors after discussing them in Messenger with her colleagues. Meanwhile Lauren Foley, a writer, told me she started getting ads for Happy Socks after seeing one of their shops when she got off the bus one day.

When online advertising seems to know us this well, it begs the question: are our phones listening to us?

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Mahir Uysal on Unsplash

Two years ago, I got off the phone after an interview and cried my eyes out. I'd just spent an hour talking to Tim Ballard, the founder of Operation Underground Railroad, an organization that helps fight child sex trafficking, and I just couldn't take it.

Ballard told me about how the training to go undercover as a child predator nearly broke him. He told me an eerie story of a trafficker who could totally compartmentalize, showing Ballard photos of kids he had for sale, then switching gears to proudly show him a photo of his own daughter on her bicycle, just as any parent would. He told me about how lucrative child trafficking is—how a child can bring in three or four times as much as a female prostitute—and how Americans are the industry's biggest consumers.

Keep Reading Show less

Apparently, I'm being paid off by pedophiles.

This payoff is news to me, but it's what Some Random People on the Internet are saying, so it must be true, right? That's how this works? What other reason would I have for sharing factual information about the very real issue of child sex trafficking and calling out false stories of Satanic pedophile rings in which famous evil overlords like Tom Hanks, Oprah, and Hillary Clinton torture and sacrifice children to increase their own power? I simply must be "in on it" somehow.

That seems to be more plausible in some people's minds than the idea that the wild "Pizzagate" child sex ring theory, which has already been thoroughly and repeatedly debunked, could be fabricated by online trolls and perpetuated by politically-motivated players. People believe Pizzagate is real because they've been convinced that the entire media industry is in cahoots and because fringe "sources" with no oversight and no accountability—who insist they're the only ones telling the truth—said so.

Keep Reading Show less