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Building Cultural Bridges From Ukraine To Appalachia, Mexilachian Music, And We Learn How A Black Recreation Area Is Seeing New Life

Boroxta Ukraine 2017.JPG
Christopher Miller
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View of Carpathian mountains in Ukraine.

The Russian invasion in Ukraine is sending shockwaves throughout the world. Did you know that the geography and culture of the people who live in the mountains of southwest Ukraine have a lot in common with Appalachia? Google images of the Carpathian mountains and you’ll see stunning images that look very similar to views in our own backyard.

A group of scholars in Appalachia and in Ukraine noticed these connections, too. They’ve been collaborating for years. This week on Inside Appalachia, we explore the intercultural connections between the two regions.

We’ll also listen back to several stories we originally aired last fall, including one about a park in southwestern Virginia that was created during the Jim Crow-era as one of the only recreation areas in central Appalachia for Black residents. Green Pastures eventually fell into disrepair, but now it’s seeing a makeover as one of Virginia’s newest state parks.

We’ll also hear what happens when a family with roots in Mexico and in Appalachia combines its cultural identities through music, and writer Marie Manilla tells us why she feels drawn to push against stereotypes of her region and her people. And we’ll hear why so many parents are having trouble finding affordable child care, and what West Virginia is doing to end child care deserts.

In This Episode:

Virginia Restores Historic National Park

pamela marshall.jpg
Mason Adams / West Virginia Public Broadcasting
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Clifton Forge Mayor Pamela Marshall welcomes visitors to experience a “miracle in the mountains” at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Green Pastures.

Green Pastures was designated as an African American recreational area in 1937 at the behest of the NAACP chapter of Clifton Forge, a small Appalachian Virginia town. The goal was to create a U.S. Forest Service outdoor recreation area specifically for Black residents — not just in the Alleghany Highlands but for people in the larger region around it. Green Pastures officially integrated in 1950 and enjoyed a heyday as a destination and gathering place into the 1970s. But the park fell into disrepair, and the United States Forest Service closed its gates by the 2000s. That was until a local history group called What’s Your Story began collecting oral histories about Green Pastures park. The memories turned into action, and in October 2021, Gov. Ralph Northam announced that the park will reopen and be run as part of the Virginia state park system. West Virginia Public Broadcasting reporter and Inside Appalachia co-host Mason Adams attended the ribbon cutting and collected stories from Black residents who grew up playing at Green Pastures and are excited about its next chapter.

Building Cultural Bridges Through Mexilachian Music

There are six members of the Lua Project (L-R) — Matty Metcalfe, Sophia Enriquez, Christen Hubbard, Estela Knott, David Berzonsky, Ramona Martinez. Photo by Kristin Finn Photography(1).jpg
Kristin Finn Photography
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There are six members of the Lua Project (L-R) — Matty Metcalfe, Sophia Enriquez, Christen Hubbard, Estela Knott, David Berzonsky, Ramona Martinez

With Spanglish lyrics, the pluck of a banjo and strum of a guitarra de son, music by Charlottsville’s Lua Project is hard to place. The band defines its sound as “Mexilachian”— a blend of Appalachian old-time and Mexican folk music, but Lua members said their music also draws on Jewish and Eastern European traditions, with a dash of baroque and Scots-Irish influence. The Lua Project has made it their mission to merge their various identities into music. Last year, Inside Appalachia Folkways reporter Clara Haizlett caught up with some of the band at their home in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Marie Manilla On ‘Urban Appalachia’ 

For a lot of writers, and publishers, Appalachia means stories about the rural experience — like coal mining or farming. Author Marie Manilla grew up with a different type of Appalachian experience in the city of Huntington, West Virginia. Manilla spoke with reporter Liz McCormick about why she identifies as "urban Appalachian," and how she uses her work to push for change in West Virginia and around the world.

Child Care Challenges Pre-Date Pandemic

West Virginia women have the lowest workforce participation rate in the country. Many Mountain State moms want to work, but can’t because of the lack of child care. They either can’t find child care, or they can’t afford it. The unexpected closure of schools in the spring of 2020, and then months of isolation from extended families and caregivers, put a spotlight on these issues. But as Emily Corio reports, child care challenges pre-date the pandemic.

Families Feel Pressures Of Child Care Desert

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Courtesy Megan Hullinger
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Megan Hullinger is a single mom in Pocahontas County, W.Va. Pictured are her four children Tessa, Abby, Nathan and Gemma. It took Hullinger nearly three years to get her son Nathan into a childcare center. Her youngest is still on a waiting list.

Parents in Appalachia can wait months, even years, to get their kids a space in a childcare center. It took nearly three years for Megan Hullinger to get her son, Nathan, a spot.

“It's almost impossible to get a child under the age of two into a registered center,” Hullinger said.

That’s because more than 60 percent of people in West Virginia live in a child care desert, according to the Center for American Progress. A child care desert means there are more people who need childcare than there are spots available. Inside Appalachia producer Roxy Todd spoke to parents across the state about the difficulty of finding child care close to home.

 

Email us at insideappalachia@wvpublic.org. Tweet us @InAppalachia. Our theme music is by Matt Jackfert. Other music this week was provided by The Lua Project, Wes Swing, Jake Schepps, and Dinosaur Burps. You can find us on Twitter @InAppalachia.

Roxy Todd is our producer. Alex Runyon is our associate producer. Our interim executive producer is Eric Douglas. Our editor is Kelley Libby. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. Zander Aloi also helped produce this episode. You can find us on Twitter @InAppalachia. You can also send us an email to InsideAppalachia@wvpublic.org.

Stay Connected
Inside Appalachia Co-Host/Folkways Reporter, ctan@wvpublic.org, 307-231-9865, @miss_ctan
Former Reporter/Producer for Inside Appalachia, @RoxyMTodd
Alex Runyon is a proud Huntington, West Virginia native. She attended Marshall University and earned degrees in creative writing and literary studies, dabbling in journalism, photography and women’s studies along the way. She worked as a freelance photographer and social media strategist before joining the Inside Appalachia team as Associate Producer. Alex enjoys writing and performing stand up comedy, hiking, screenwriting and playing board games. She lives in Huntington, West Virginia with her cat, Waylon Kittings. Follow her on Twitter @_AlexRunyon.