Opinion: Don't forget where you came from
Susan Bodnar's grandmother implored her to remember her roots in a Pennsylvania coal patch community.
November 24th, 2011
09:00 AM ET

Opinion: Don't forget where you came from

Editor’s note: Susan Bodnar is a clinical psychologist who works with people from diverse backgrounds and teaches at Columbia University’s Teachers College. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, two children and all of their pets.

See how readers reacted to Bodnar's piece.

By Susan Bodnar, Special to CNN

(CNN) - When the director of diversity at my son’s new elite Manhattan private school recently asked a few parents in a diversity committee meeting to comment about the personal impact of stereotypes, I paused. As a white American with white children, I could have expressed my deep empathy for the racism experienced by people of color. Instead I knew I had to come out from behind the color of my skin and share how stereotypes affected me. White people, after all, are confronted by bias too.

“I sometimes feel insecure, “ I said, “being around so many wealthy people and I’m having trouble with my extended family who think I’m being uppity by sending the kids to a private school.”

I had just returned from my grandmother’s funeral in McAdoo, the small eastern Pennsylvania town that grew from a coal-mining patch community. For decades, coal was a thriving economic engine that had supported my immigrant family. When the coal ran dry sometime after World War II, the progress train left town, leaving behind slag heaps and blackened cavities in the earth. Some family members continued to work as wildcat miners. Others branched out into trucking, steel mills and manufacturing jobs. One grandfather became a chicken and potato farmer. A great-uncle opened a local grocery, Bodnar’s market. Despite the economic devastation brought on by the end of the region’s mining era, my family was trying to grow.

My father even won an ROTC scholarship and served with his young family on Clark Air Base in the Philippine Islands, which served as the logistical hub for the Vietnam War and the place where F-4 fighter planes took off for secret bombing missions. That war ushered in newer mores that seemed to break everything apart. My parents divorced. My single, working mom moved away and raised my sister and me in a little apartment in a small Connecticut town. My father relocated to Texas. My grandfather’s farm couldn’t keep up with the competition from industrial agriculture. Local unemployment numbers grew and insidious mining-related illnesses plagued my family – black lung, emphysema, kidney disease, brain tumors and other cancers, as well as psychological problems stemming from depression and alcoholism. Everybody chain-smoked.

Yet, this area of Pennsylvania and its people – my family – remained the place to which I always returned home. I still played with my cousins while the adults shared meals on picnic tables set up outside until long after dusk. We picked blueberries and mushrooms, hiked through the woods to watch the deer, helped my grandfather heave coal into the furnace and learned to use my grandmother’s black sewing machine, decorated with gold.

Soon enough, I was accepted on a scholarship to Wesleyan University, one of the first universities to seriously strive for economic diversity in education. Of course, everything changed for me. I met people who had lived in different countries; studied philosophy, intellectual history, languages and improvisational dance; I discovered that I too could have dreams, even preposterous ones. Hard work and possibility defined my emergent self, rather than obstacles and limitations.

McAdoo began to look smaller and more frightening, especially since it seemed to have stopped moving forward in time. The houses, cars and the people became grayer and run down, as though from the set from an old movie. My parents’ homes started to feel complicated and hard. At 18, my mother had a newborn. At the same age, I was a sophomore at one of the best universities in the country. After a certain point, I realized that my parents couldn’t possibly understand who I had become and needed their scant resources to support their own growth. I had no choice but to continue the journey my parents started and take the dreams of immigrant miners further along the path to success. I have remained steadfast in this quest despite the embarrassment of many, many social mistakes - gesticulating so hard I knocked someone’s plate out of their hands, dressing in a long plaid skirt, thick sweater and wide, flat shoes for date night, and once mistaking the Hamptons for a rock band. My friends assumed eccentricity caused my worries. The reality was the possibility that I wouldn’t be able to pay tuition, despite working two jobs.

For these reasons, I often felt inferior and not as good as others because I came from a different class. This bothered me. Aren’t most of us on different points of a trajectory toward increased freedoms? Don’t many people still struggle with the challenge of being members of a much more entitled – and confident – society than the one into which we may have been born? Why did some people seem to act as if they were better than me?

I didn’t think it was all in my head. Some people managed class differences by eschewing anyone who reminds them of their own diverse pasts. White people can easily pull off that conceit. My grandmother, however, always reminded, “Don’t forget where you come from.” I have therefore struggled to live in both worlds, my McAdoo and my New York City – an urban dweller with small town values. Society depends as much on the traditions and values of working class culture as it does on the innovations inherent in upward mobility. Those often-disparate places reverberate inside most of us like two rhythms beating as one heart.

I eventually earned my doctorate in clinical psychology and now assist other people trying to manage their multiple cultural identities, a psychological reality that has become increasingly common in a more global and integrated society. This is especially true of my practice because I have a sliding scale fee structure. My relatives have welcomed me as “the first doctor” in the family. And now that my grandmother has died, this “doctor” wants to remain connected to my “first family.”

I am going to start sewing again, using my grandmother’s hand-stitched guide to turn old patterns into clothing for our modern New York children. I will also openly join the school diversity committee, out of respect for the multiculturalism of everybody’s family story, including my own.

The opinions expressed on this commentary are solely those of Susan Bodnar.

Posted by
Filed under: How we live • Race • What we think
soundoff (445 Responses)
  1. McAdoo Boy

    Susan, your surname is familiar, as well as the given name Rosemary, surname Bodnar. If ever you come to a film showing of the Columbia Univ Ukrainian Film Club curated by Yuri Shevchuk, we may meet. I would be pleased ... .

    January 1, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
  2. OrangeW3dge

    We only exist in other people's memories. If we try hard enough we can hold an image of our parents or Grand Parents in our minds for most of our lives. Some of us are even lucky enough to have seen our Great Grand Parents, but that's about all. Through the inventions of recording sounds and images we have been able to extend that a little further. Yet for the 1.5 million or so years that humans have traveled the Earth, only the fossil record and DNA tells from where we come. And now that we can prove that Africa is the cradle there is not much more to say than where your own passport has been stamped.

    December 13, 2011 at 6:27 am | Report abuse |
  3. Lorie

    “America is the place where what you do and how you think and how hard you work is the measure of your value. Not if you were the son of this or a daughter of that.” This is how it should be and some communities are fortunate enough to embody this concept, but most don’t. Even the military has a growing problem with the number of hate groups it houses. White privilege is something even poor whites claim.
    White America is quick to remind non whites that their nationality is questionable. They are stereotyped and used as scapegoats. If you don’t believe me, just read the comments section of almost any internet news item. It’s shocking how fast hate language appears. Remembering one’s roots is admirable. Remembering our shared humanity is even better.

    December 12, 2011 at 12:29 am | Report abuse |
  4. Lady_Bex

    I heard it put once that America as a melting pot is a poor illustration, that perhaps Americans are the ingredients in the soup, each keeping their own character but making the whole wonderful. My mother's family is French Canadian, and she was born in Michigan. When she was 6 she moved down south and is in Alabama to this day. I have never lived outside the state, and most of my life was spend in the same small town where Mom was raised, and where I was born and raised. Oh, yeah, we were really different growing up–Mom had different ways of looking at things and different ways of behaving. Even when I pointed out to her that we were "different." or that "No one else does that!" she made sure to tell me that we were American and Southern just as much as the rest of them. It took me most of my life to appreciate this but now I am happy to claim the traditions, culture and love of both places. Never forget where you come from, or where your family is from. Heritage is one of the greatest things a person can have.

    December 11, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Tyhouston

    Hey all you white folk out there.
    Ya know those who are labeled the kids of slavers ect when your ancestors never held any. Might have been one, since the fist US slaves were irish,

    Don't forget where you come from. Cast off the white label, and be Irish American, why let everyone else guilt trip you with labels while wrapping themselves up in them.

    Ask a African if they really can trace back to Africa and not say Jamaica. Are MExican Americans really mexican? Or a country nearby.

    As a minority it's all used to give guilt and usher in the new racism where anyone not in majority color is more important even if they are worthless,lazy and nonmotivated.

    Say we make military service mandatory, it'll kill taking pride in 200 year old foolishness to get a leg up in hiring preferences after you look to the guy and gal on your right and left and know in a fire fight they got your back no matter what gender or color.

    The US needs less of worrying about labels and the past and needs more people being Americans again.

    December 10, 2011 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
  6. Pat Wright

    Susan, I grew-up in
    Wilkes-Barre, in and around the Scranton and McAdoo area. My grandparents and their sibs all worked in the mines, and also suffered the rigors of that life. Black Lung, long hours, child labor, for a few cents a day. I can never forget those stories of rolling down into the mine before sun up and not comming out until late in the evening. Children as young as 5 picking coal to help their families afford the "company store" over inflated prices. Each of my father' uncles and my mother's family all starte their young lives in the coal dust of those towns. Thanks for the reminder. Pat W.

    December 7, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      I think the stories are a big part of us, and its nice for me to know of others like you who also remember.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:43 am | Report abuse |
      • lovelythinker

        Dear Susan Bodnar,
        Is your family of Hungarian origin by any chance?

        December 9, 2011 at 4:21 am | Report abuse |
  7. Guest

    I could care less where I came from
    I only care where Im going

    December 6, 2011 at 8:23 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Justin

    Great article, thank you for tackling this issue that generally raises the hackles of the non-whites. I think many white people are feeling alienated from their history and are grasping for something solid to serve as a foundation for Being. Achievements and awards ring hollow if one has no connection to the long line of people whose lives brought theirs into existence. In Asatru we honor our Ancestors and say, "It is on their shoulders that we stand today."

    Diversity is wonderful, and it is high time that we realize that the multi-cultural traditions of those labeled generally as "white" are just as important to the American Quilt as those from Haiti, Iran, India, Jamaica and all the nations of the world that have supplemented the American population.

    December 6, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      Somehow the word culture cam ego refer only to ethnicities of color. In reality, like you said, everyone has culture. That culture consists of many different patches that together make a while quilt. Somehow it seems easier for people to either focus on the differences between the patches or only on the quilt as though it were a single woven cloth. I wonder why this is so.

      December 9, 2011 at 12:48 am | Report abuse |
  9. CB1111

    Great point. And we especially forget that there were people living here with their own cultures when the wave of immigration started after Columbus. But even they immigrated in the remote past from Asia and Europe.

    Education though is the key. It's what was drilled into us. Not learning the language of the nation you come to actually keeps you a second class citizen because you can't really rise in society. My mom used to take action by volunteering with the kids. She had them fluent integrated back in class in months.

    So we honor our roots in our family, enjoy who we are, but accept we are in America. Not to partake in McDonalds and MTV and the worst of it, but of the best. I never reveal my roots until after being hired. And I try to look around me for ways to give kids a chance to rise up.

    December 4, 2011 at 10:09 am | Report abuse |
  10. Jackie

    Diversity is not a value. It is a means by which progressives divide populations to manipulate public opinion. It is called Balkanizing. Look at the history of the Balkans to the present day to really understand the vile path we are creating.

    America is the place where what you do and how you think and how hard you work is the measure of your value. Not if you were the son of this or a daughter of that.

    I value my heritage. I celebrate it. But I a far prouder of the things I have in common with my fellow citizens. Go spend a few weeks in a military community–you will finally get it.

    December 2, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      I agree that we don't want our nation to descend into a country of divided groups. Yet would we want uniformity? I think military communities are good a good example of people being both themselves and also part of something larger. Our country is still struggling to find balance. That is why your comments reflect one important perspective in the dialogue.

      December 2, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
      • Victor HiDuke

        Ms Bodnar: Re: Your recent statement "Would we want uniformity ?" implying it was a negative.

        I think it would be nice as the diversity concept makes people CONTINUALLY think they are separate from the whole. There now is constant umbrage over "left handed blue people under 5 foot" are x% of the population but are only y% of this or that situation. How terrbile !!

        As a left handed blue person, 4 foot 11 -– I did not feel un-represented until you made me feel un -repesented and now I am sad and outraged !!! Make room for my class, Tthrow those 6 foot green people out of there ! What a lousy country we live in !!!

        With more uniformity psychologically speaking and less diversity pointing out and "fixing" it by ever expanding it - we would be happier.. YES ! More uniformity in our collective thinking !!! Vic

        December 2, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
      • ms1234

        I think the bottom line is peoples search and agreement toward individuality rather than proclaiming how diverse I am from you. I prefer the Sesame Street mentality rather than the wear-the-flag-of-the-country-that-my-5-times-great-grandparent-came-from mentality. I understand what you are saying about culture being more than color. Thats great, and it is true that everyone is raised differently, even slightly, no matter what. I wonder how much that really can be used as "culture". I think its best defined as a geographical life habits description which would be unique to an area.

        December 9, 2011 at 7:40 am | Report abuse |
      • Lorie

        “America is the place where what you do and how you think and how hard you work is the measure of your value. Not if you were the son of this or a daughter of that.” This is how it should be and some communities are fortunate enough to embody this concept, but most don’t. Even the military has a growing problem with the number of hate groups it houses. White privilege is something even poor whites claim.
        White America is quick to remind non whites that their nationality is questionable. They are stereotyped and used as scapegoats. If you don’t believe me, just read the comments section of almost any internet news item. It’s shocking how fast hate language appears. Remembering one’s roots is admirable. Remembering our shared humanity is even better.

        December 12, 2011 at 12:11 am | Report abuse |
  11. NinaT

    My parents and I arrived in the states in 1953, after the death of Joseph Stalin when getting out of the Soviet Union was easier in the chaos which followed Stalin's death. The inhabitants was supposedly in "mourning" . . so the border guards were not that anxious to scrutinize who was leaving. Besides, my father had an invitation to attend a legal symposium in Germany.

    We secured an American sponsor and went through the process of filling out immigration papers and going through a myriad of interviews and health screenings.

    Upon our arrival, I thought we were in paradise. European cities were pretty much demolished, especially Vienna and the German cities. As our ship passed the Statue of Liberty, there was not one dry eye onboard. We were in AMERICA!

    We arrived in Cleveland, Ohio by train on a Friday .. and on Sunday night my parents went to work cleaning office buildings in the downtown area. My father was a lawyer, but he and my mother were so elated to be out of Europe that any job was a blessing to them.

    My parents told me that America was a sovereign country and we needed to respect that. Their goal was to assimilate into the mainstream culture immediately .. . which included speaking ONLY English. They felt that hanging on to old world traditions was actually detrimental. In five years, they applied for US citizenship and with that "Anglicized" their names. I was sent to private schools even though that was a financial hardship on them until they got to the point of bettering their financial standing.

    They always felt - and even promulgated - that when one enters a new country, it is imperative to be part of that country's mainstream culture and they had very little sympathy for people who clinged to the way of their former homelands. To them, it was highly disrespectful to the new homeland to cling to the past.

    December 2, 2011 at 12:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      I understand how free your family must have felt and, like you, very much appreciate their valor and courage. The issue of language is quite complex. I have seen how important it is for people to learn English and how much that helps the assimilation into a new culture. I also am aware of the beauty and role of people's original language. Our society should make a place for those languages as well. This is an important debate in our society right now and I appreciate your contribution.

      December 2, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • ms1234

      I agree with what you posted more than the writer of the article. 1) We really need to pay closer attention to what elderly people say and how they view things. An exploration of generational behavior and mindframe is maybe more important than culture. I dont think we need to meld other languages into America. I like offering 2nd language classes as a choice for those who want to speak a 2nd language. I dont think America is the place for different dialects varying on English from somewhere else thats backpacked onto English. I love Spanish, I like to hear it, I promote the learning of it to promote conversation as incoming immigrants learn English as well, but I dont want to see several languages in court, for example. I think your grandparents were right. Bits and pieces of the "old world" exist in individual habits which become how you are raised and pass down.

      December 9, 2011 at 7:48 am | Report abuse |
  12. Patricia J. Dennis

    My comment was not published....why?

    December 1, 2011 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      I'm not sure. Please try again.

      December 2, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Hardae Mercy

    "Poor white people are the most invisible people in this country". My friend from the Berkshires told me those words one night when my Reggae band was playing near a ski resort in Great Barrington, Ma. We argued about this for hours. I thought she was crazy until later when I drove through some of the surrounding towns like North Adams and saw first hand what she meant. Our national Myths and the daily fables need to expand to include all our brothers and sisters and their stories. I think we can learn to understand and appreciate each other better if all of us remember our roots, our grand parents and parent struggles. We all have a lot more in common than the TV allows us to see. Thanks Susan Bodnar. I love your article.

    November 30, 2011 at 1:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      Thank you, Hardae Mercy. What strikes me about the invisibility of the poor white person is that our country was founded by them. In fact, it was the very poverty of living that helped give this country some of its character. Surviving, overcoming and navigating deprivation helped give the idea of democracy a lot of soul. I love what you wrote here: "Our national Myths and the daily fables need to expand to include all our brothers and sisters and their stories." I think that is a big reason the In America blog has come into being.

      November 30, 2011 at 8:23 pm | Report abuse |
      • ms1234

        Well we should start at the beginning, with the Native Americans. I guess I don't know what special thing white people do that is not getting talked about.

        December 9, 2011 at 7:51 am | Report abuse |
  14. Thea

    Thank you Susan for a wonderful story...... I grew up in rural Oklahoma and when I moved to Los Angeles after college I was stunned by the bigotry and ignorance people had about my upbringing – or how they felt they could 'share' their own prejudices with me, assuming of course I'd agree with them.....I had great pride in honestly saying "No, I don't know what you mean about black people – my parents marched with Dr. King."

    The Appalachia author Sharyn McCrumb has a wonderful phrase for people who remember where they have come from but moved on to other worlds – she calls us 'The Cosmic Possums", we know how to do pilates AND deliver food to someone when there is a death in the family.

    Please keep writing, you have many fans

    November 29, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      How great that you could declare with pride your parents' involvement in the Civi Rights Movement! The ability to do so helps people think twice about their own stereotypes. It's how we can challenge superficiality.

      November 30, 2011 at 8:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. lucychromosome

    A 7th Generation German-American family has been here for over 100 years.. the other side Irish, Cherokee, Scandinavian mutt. I think you touched on a pivotal problem I am having now. First person in my family to get an education. First person to leave where they are from (small German community in Texas with less than 1,00 people) . This within itself creates psychological dissonance because of strong family ties and the desire to grow and understand the world outside of what you have means you probably have to leave it behind.
    There is no guilt trips given to me by my family it's just that I care about them deeply they understand me better than most and it's hard to leave things that you love and cherish. The land I've grew up on, the silence of nature.. just so that I can go forth and put something into society. I too am about to embark on a journey to get my art therapy degree. I do hope that I can return one day to living and socializing around my family and also have my career. But even then Central Texas is prime real estate now and my roots could be bought out from under me or price me out of my own home where I was born and raised.. Thanks for posting!

    November 29, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      Love is the important word in what you write, Lucychromosone. There isn't a day that goes by when that love doesn't swell up inside of me as I think about my grandmother's lilac bushes, my grandfather's heavy boots, my mother's courageous journey, my father's heavy heart. Love lines the path toward upward mobility with complexity. All these very moving comments are matters of the deepest of hearts.

      November 30, 2011 at 8:34 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Susan Bodnar

    Good question.

    November 28, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  17. DNAgrrrrrl

    Wow, Susan, thanks for writing this. I have shared these struggles....always feeling different........having no one to whom I can relate....... My grandfather emigrated here, to a little mining town in western PA (Coal Hollow, PA).....my mother grew up with English as her second language. she had rheumatic fever when she was a child so had to quit school. My dad grew up on a farm and he too quit school, in his case, to go to Korea...thus neither of my parents had high school diploma and so raised 7 kids on next to nothing (hand-me-down clothing, wild game with food stamps and free lunch to supplement). I am the youngest of the 7 kids and I can say absolutely honestly that I knew from the time I was 8 years old (3rd grade) that I needed to get far away from there. I studied 6 days a week from 3rd grade to senior year to graduate valedictorian (because if you are a girl, 20 years ago there was NO WAY OUT unless you joined the army or got an academic scholarship....so I knew I had to graduate top of the class. Boys had the hope of athletic scholarships (western PA = football), but for girls that wasn't possible. Luckily I had a mother who believed in me and told me I could do anything and told me 'not to worry about college, to leave that up to [her]"....little did I know at the time that this poor woman who washed laundry and cleaned offices was giving her daughter limitless dreams. As it happens, we had enough money for two college applications (and I had to pick schools that didn't require an interview,a s there was no means of getting me there)......well Colgate came through with a full scholarship (tuition, books, food, apt.......whatever I needed.) In any case, like you, my mother told me to never forget where I was from......she emphasized this the day she took me to college. (Sadly, this was the last day I ever saw her – she died suddenly two weeks later from a blood clot; a clot that apparently moved during our trip......so yes, my mother literally died while taking me to college. Yes, for years I felt guilty that if I hadn't been so "uppity/trying to be someone better than my family", that my mother would have lived. As if that wasn't bad enough, about 10 months later my dad was disabled in a car accident – my family had no income at all – my dad couldn't work – we shut the tv off, and then the phone, and then dad said that if the gas has to get shut off, then we would cook outside on a camp fire. Try explaining THAT to your friends at your ridiculously expensive liberal arts school with friends whose parents are millionaires or ambassadors or CEOs. Talk about feeling different and alone. I never thought I wasn't as smart as my peers, but I knew that I was really ignorant. At first I had a chip on my shoulder but then I realized that they were as limited as I was......I had a roommate who had no idea how to change a light bulb (they had a maid)....and another who could not comprehend that I had never been on a bus, a train, a taxi, a subway, ro an airplane; had never been skiing; had never seen the ocean. I was from such a small place that I was nervous getting on an escalator and had never been in a parking garage! Now flash forward to professional life. It's been a struggle in many respects.........having no idea how to write a resume.....how to network......how to interview........what proper table etiquette is (I had to memorize what all the knives and forks were).......appropriate topics of conversation.....vocabulary/use of language is different by class as is style of dress........my life has been spent teaching myself everything and anything, and it's been ungodly tiriing.... I could be bitter at having to give up my entire childhood and as an adult feel very alone, or I can say that these experiences taught me the value of hard work and good parenting.......yes I am successful in the traditional American success (good corporate job, twealthy, travelled widely inside and outside the US).....but more importantly, I have learned that the only limits people have are the ones they place on themselves. We all have our stories - it's the ones we choose to tell ourselves about ourselves that define us........I choose to say that I am who I am told BECAUSE of these struggles........thank god for a great mother who allowed me to dream and a father who instilled in me an amazing work ethic. Like you, I have tried to keep a foot in both worlds and it is VERY VERY hard. It would be far easier to stay in one.........but then my mother's words ring in my head......don't forget who you are, don't forget where you're from.......and I realize maybe that she knew what was in store for me once I had the education and wanted to ensure I maintained my values in a morally grey world. I am so thankful....... NB: my husband is from the same small town as I ,and like me, is the first to go to college. Interestingly, where my family celebrates my success, his family rejects his and treats him like some kind of traitor (the whole 'uppity' thing). ... we are trying to have kids and i do worry A LOT about how we are going to teach them values given that they will not have to struggle.

    November 28, 2011 at 2:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      Your story is full of power and courage! I think many of the readers of this article could certainly relate to your description of your wealthier roommates not knowing how to do things, and your own feelings about the things that were new for you. Actually, CNN has been really interested in comments like yours and has set up an opportunity for reader reactions here: http://inamerica.blogs.cnn.com/2011/11/28/reader-react-dont-forget-where-you-came-from/
      I think you will feel at home among these posts. I really appreciate your story and your inspired determination to most fully be yourself.

      November 28, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
      • DNAgrrrrrl

        Thank you, Susan, I will have to check it out. I really appreciate you writing this piece.....I have never, ever met smeone who has had a life like mine. The closest I've come is Rick Bragg, author of All Over But the Shoutin'. I am thankful too for Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle. If you haven't read these books, I highly recommend them.

        November 29, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anna

      Kudos to all of you for posting this. I am a Mexican American; first in my famiily to go to college. It is sad to me when I hear other people talking about speaking only English and forgetting your roots. I am proud of being bilingual (close to speaking more than 2languages), and proud of being "different". To me, that is what makes us American. We can all come from different places, but we can merge into being American. Feel proud to be YOU!!!

      December 1, 2011 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
  18. James

    One of many things that is great about America is that we are all one people, it has European roots, but has just about every culture blended into it from every country, and from that we have taken in customs, ideas, and wonderful parts of many countries culture's, smile and respect the fact that all cultures have provided something great to the world, a way of life, whether you define yourself as an american with foreign roots, or your family has been here from its start, respect your roots.

    November 28, 2011 at 2:28 am | Report abuse |
  19. Patti

    It's ridiculous to to try to hide our diversity or pretend we all just the "human" race or "Amercians". That's not what this country was built on. This country was built by immigrants, period. My mother is first generation born in this country, my grandfather came over from Italy and also worked in the coal mines and the family was plagued with many of the problems Susan's was. But because of his hard work, my daughters will thrive and I have had a wonderful life. It's not about money, it's about what he taught my mother and what she taught me and what I'm teaching my daughters. VALUE and appreciate what you choose to. If you read this and are bitter or don't get it or fail to appreciate and embrace the differences in people, that's on you.

    November 28, 2011 at 12:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Anna

      Amen!! Mexican-American and PROUD of it!!! We can be from Italian, German, etc, and still be AMERICANS!!
      I worked on assembling missiles for the military, helped protect our veterans, I am proud to be American AND speak more than just English.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
  20. Honesty

    Where were you born? Were you born in the US? Yes? Then you are American. You are not Irish-American, African-American, or any other country-American. If you want to be concerned about your roots, all of our true roots is a primordial pool of sludge. Do you want to celebrate that? That is where we came from. I have German, Sicilian, and Finnish ancestry. What would I qualify as? Sicilian-German-Finnish-American just sounds clunky. So I'll stick with American. Ideally, we would all just identify ourselves as human. The rest is just extra cruft that separates us.

    November 27, 2011 at 11:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • AmericanSam

      See, why would you stop at American? How about we're all human beings? Or we're all living? Either way, I don't think there's any problems with taking pride in one's heritage as long as this does not lead to feelings of superiority. I find multiculturalism fascinating.

      November 28, 2011 at 12:53 am | Report abuse |
    • AmericanBob

      Quite true. We are the mutts of the world. I've never been to Ireland or the Czech Republic and when I lived in Germany it was as an American. I have a Choctaw great-grandmother but never been to Oklahoma. I was born and raised in the American South. I leave out all the hyphenated phoniness. Pride in my distant ancestry? Why? I didn't do anything except in my own life as an American.

      November 28, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
      • Kaiser James

        Yes, agree with you – look ahead.It's the American way.

        November 30, 2011 at 2:49 am | Report abuse |
  21. Maggieb

    Dr. Bodnar, your story appears just two days after a conversation I had with a close friend, on the subject of class in America, so you caught my attention right away. I come from an Irish Catholic, working class world, whose inhabitants could not see the benefit of college educations for girls; my friend, a woman raised in a Protestant, middle class, academic family, holds a doctorate; yet both of us have had essentially the same struggle: to define ourselves, and determine our own life path, regardless of our backgrounds. (we are both 60, and both from New England)

    I believe that class is, at its heart, a power structure. Not a strict hierarchy, but a rough assemblage based, at least in this country, on work and shared values. Money does play a role, to be sure; but it plays a surprisingly smaller one than many people realize. Classes are held together more by their members, and stereotypes spring up to help maintain the cohesion of the group. Power is much more an intra-class issue than an inter-class one. Thus, I would be interested to know if your comment to the meeting about your relatives thinking you "uppity" was something a relative actually said to you, or was it just your sense of what they were thinking?

    When a member of your original class comments about your social mobility, there can be several different motivations behind the comment. For example, your grandmother's words to never forget where you come from, could be construed as either good advice to stay honest with yourself about yourself; or it could be interpreted as a subtle putdown of your ambitions. I have no way of knowing which it might be, of course; I just want to present both interpretations.

    Trying to live in two worlds is like trying to ride two horses at once; it can't really be done well. By virtue of your life decisions, you have placed yourself some place different from where you started. But different does not mean inherently better or worse. Where you are now is your world; your choice. If you choose the positive interpretation of your grandmother's words, then why not openly and honestly claim your world? Regardless of what your extended family says or thinks, you are already out of their sphere; it is their responsibility to honor your choices, just as you would try to respect and honor theirs. And unless you wish to consign your children to them, you cannot go back to their world. They may have many qualities that you will want to incorporate into your own life, and that can be a good thing. But while they might consider you"uppity" now, they would just as quickly find other ways to resent you or hold you back if you gave up your current life, and tried to return and live theirs.

    As for discomfort around wealthy people, I can understand that it's probably a struggle to keep your children in a private school, especially financially. And a number of the children who attend may seem to have more material things, etc. But I would suggest that you share a very important value with these "wealthy" people: you want the best education you can get for your children. While there may be some who behave condescendingly towards you, I bet the majority respect your decision and applaud your efforts. And don't forget, that they all have their own share of problems; many of which can't be solved with all the money in the world.
    Thank you for an interesting article.

    November 27, 2011 at 11:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      This is a wonderful post Maggieb. Your ideas suggest the kind of mutual respect and comfortable dialogue that will help many Americans bridge the problematic divide that is so hard to put into words. Thank you so much for helping the conversation.

      November 28, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
  22. waycist

    "Don't Forget Your Roots"
    Unless, of course, you're white and from the South. In which case your "roots" are a federal hate crime with no statute of limitations.

    November 27, 2011 at 10:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      Wow, I had no idea people in the south felt that way. Is it true? I'd like to think most people are more open than what you describe. If not, then it must be a terrible and unfair burden. I wonder how to create more meaningful conversations with people living in the south.

      November 28, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
      • b.e.

        We have to be very careful about being proud of our roots in the south.

        December 1, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
  23. Henry Miller

    "Director of diversity?" "Diversity committee?" You have got to be kidding!

    Why can't people just be people? Why does everyone have to be assigned little pigeon-holes of "diversity?"

    November 27, 2011 at 10:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • rsjacksonus

      Exactly what I am thinking. Its sad. Diversity never leads to inclusion and acceptance, too.

      November 27, 2011 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • waycist

      I've often wondered how much diversity there is amongst diversity "professionals".
      Something tells me not much, and that the whole thing is little more than a racket to create mindless "make work" jobs for a certain race of people.

      November 27, 2011 at 10:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sean

      Diversity can be quite powerful in the workplace if approached correctly. This is not about making concessions for people based on diversity but rather ensuring that you are getting the most input from a diverse set of sources. The value of this has been clearly demonstrated over the years. There was a time when mostly men made recommendations on the marketing of products to women. It was smart business to open the doors and hear diverse input from women. Companies who did so saw a measurable benefit. The same is true for other diversity groups. Trust me, diversity is actually a valuable and profitable commodity. It is not about segregating people. It is about hearing and recognizing diverse voices.

      November 28, 2011 at 12:18 am | Report abuse |
    • James

      Before I say this I must stress that I do not believe in the supremacy of one race! diversity has kept culture flourishing throughout time, about every race that walked this earth has contributed wonderful things, and though empires and monopoly of trade are no longer around, every person should look at there ancestry and stand proud knowing there ancestors accomplished amazing feats.

      November 28, 2011 at 2:42 am | Report abuse |
      • zoundsman

        Agreed. Basically, this return to cultural roots, even for American minorities has been from generations trying to
        assimilate, and never getting the gold card to the club. One day, they realized "Black is Beautiful." And they were right.

        November 28, 2011 at 3:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      Henry, your comment and some of those who have responded to you reflects the intense debate going on regarding the topic of diversity. We are all human and in that way similar. Yet, we are all different in ways that matter. Somehow, people are struggling to find the balance for sameness and difference, and the creation of equality for everyone within that balance. Thank you for posting this aspect of the diversity dialogue.

      November 28, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  24. Lita

    I grew up in a similar hometown known for it's working class in the oil fields. I left and went off to college, being the first in my family to do so. My grandmother taught me to sew and crochet when I was a little girl. It was her ability to work with her hands that kept her family supplied during the war. For some reason I put it all away this year, and didn't do any of it because i was "too busy". I found myself becoming very sad and anxious and decided to take all the embroidery and crochet back out. Maybe it's corny, but I feel connected to my mom and my grandma when I work with my hands and I am more at peace. I liked what you said because there should never be judgement or shame when it comes to our backgrounds...they are ours and precious irregardless of social opinions. Thanks for this!

    November 27, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
  25. Peter Fox


    It's obvious your royalty gene was directed to your pen.


    November 27, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      What a compliment!

      November 27, 2011 at 9:47 pm | Report abuse |
  26. Lynn

    Thank you for your story Susan. Your comment about the insecurity of interaction with the wealthy at your child’s school the and the family who questions sending your children to private school is something that I understand very well. We have similar stories with different roles.

    I grew up in a row house in Mahanoy City, not far from McAdoo. The 1970s was a rough economic era. Alcohol and drugs were rampant – starting in middle school. It was rough and dirty and full of butchered grammar and foul language. My family moved to my mother’s rural Georgia home town in 1976. I now live in a different world. I moved to an old southern city at age 19 and had to assimilate into another culture. One of my first conversations with my neighbors, an older genteel southern lady, was when she corrected me as I gave directions to my apartment. I was told that I did not live in the basement apartment and park in the alley. I rented the garden apartment and parked in the lane.

    Although not blue collar, I am still part of the working middle class. I did not get a college scholarship to Wesleyan or anywhere else for that matter. I attended two years of college while working as a waitress. I am not wealthy and I do not have a college degree. My husband and I send our children to a private prep school. Education is first on our parenting agenda. I attend parent functions with the City’s wealthy and highly educated. Like you, at times I am insecure. Like you, my extended family thinks we are “uppity” sending the kids to a private school. The uppity comments come from my southern family not the PA side. Volumes could be written about diversity in the social, regional, economic, and educational cultures that I bridge without ever mentioning race.

    My oldest child graduated from UPenn. When the college was suggested by the school counselor I assumed he was talking about Penn State and I thought a tour of the school was a good excuse to visit my favorite Aunts. During my Penn parent days I learned that I grew up in Pennsyl-tucky. I never heard that term growing up. I visited Penn often for four years and discovered the many Philly art museums. I attended the Penn Parent functions and enjoyed all the City has to offer including the good pizza. I always took a few extra days and drove to Mahanoy City. Like you I have gone home for funerals of much loved aunts and uncles. I hope my next visit will not be for a funeral. My last visit in 2010 included fossil picking with my cousins at an old coal mine site. The beautiful fossils for plant file now adorn my house plants in the den along with a chunk of coal. My husband and children love this side of our family. They know where I came from.

    My father, a wonderful man, has been gone for quite some time. He worked very hard life as a brick mason well into his 60s. He did not have a high school diploma yet he read history books every night. My grandfather and previous generations worked in the mines. Hard work and moral values were the cornerstones of my upbringing. A formal education was not a priority, certainly not for a girl. I strive as a parent to add the educational component to the values and work ethic that I learned from my parents. I am trying to do this without forgetting where I came from or “getting above my raise-ins” as they say in the south.

    November 27, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      Thank you for sharing your beautiful life. I really understand you.

      November 27, 2011 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
  27. Chris Herd

    I was born into the Amish sect! I am grateful an blessed to have that knowledge and wisdom in my life! BUT no, I have no plans to return to those roots!! Light and love!

    November 27, 2011 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
  28. JFritz

    And some of us don't feel this way at all. The very immigrants who caution young people to remember their roots happily left their own behind! Some of us welcomed the oppportunity to reinvent ourselves as adults, and never felt the need to second guess or look back. I have no shame about my working class, immigrant family roots, but I also had no difficulty or guilt about moving on from college to graduate school to a sophisticated life as a professional in a big city. My parents were from different cultures, my husband yet another, and my kids adopted internatonally. Among those in our family we span four continents, numerous ethnicities, various educational levels, and get along just fine, thank you. The saddest thing of all is that the rising middle class of the fifties and sixties that made this wonderful ragout of a family and its upward mobility possible is dying in our nation now.

    November 27, 2011 at 3:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      Many, many people are expressing that sentiment that something of that motley middle class is disappearing.

      November 27, 2011 at 10:41 am | Report abuse |
  29. Victor HiDuke

    Ms Bodnar: Too dumb to know I did not fit in per my background ? I should have known but evidently I did not. What a blessing.

    Strict Catholic School at day, Junky physical school. NO sports teams at all. Physical punishments. OMG ! Underage worker in my parents' Mafia attended bar at night. The nuns let me get away with verbal religious heresy. The Mafia guys liked me and told me story after story –"I put thief on my income tax forms, not getting me like Capone." My father and aunts ran illegal numbers as a sideline.

    The nuns actually said to us that the outside world did not like Catholics –especially Polish Catholics" How is that for self-esteem building ?? !!!!! Joining the Army at 17, fearing the worst against Polish me -where was this distain ? Too naive to recognize it ? 3 years of being a military "boy cop", nerve gas experiments and steelworker/bar owner parents with a grandparent or two that could not read or write - how did I land up economically comfortable with a Masters Degree etc ? Should I not be serving time in prison somewhere per bleeding heart thinking ? I marvel at my situation as I type this. Wait !!!!! Why should I marvel ? All 11 of us went thru the same (siblings and very close cousins) and landed up economically and sociallyOK at the worst. So I guess unlike your experiences & feelings, I probably felt unease in my background truly a very few times and maybe too many times bragged about my background as the story of America to others "higher" than me. Maybe too dumb to know better. Loved your article though did get the same results from our parallel young lives. 🙂 Vic

    November 27, 2011 at 12:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      I very much doubt that dumb would be the right for here. You seem very tuned to the processes around you.

      November 27, 2011 at 10:43 am | Report abuse |
  30. Karla Earnest

    Ms. Bodnar, your life experiences mirror millions of Americans. It seems to me that a high quality education prepares one to understand the differences in the human experience. If the elite New Yorkers you speak of view you as so culturally different from them, I question their own education. I grew up in a small rural Midwest town , have an education, a family,and have traveled extensively. My father sold tires, my mother was a housewife and my entire extended family has managed, quite successfully, to find their places in the world. I'm not sure how much money many of them have, but they're certainly rich. And they embrace the diversity of rural America along with New York City.

    November 27, 2011 at 12:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      That is what we are all striving for – embracing all parts of people and of this country. Thank you!

      November 27, 2011 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
  31. Tread Water

    What a great story, so similar to our parents who worked and studied their way from from raw working class to the middle. We studied and still work hard just to stay in today's middle class life. If I would dare to bore with details, readers might agree that luck is a huge factor. With us, our heath is great, our kids are great, our careers stink.
    Those who strike it rich might recall the friendship that opened the door, that investment tip, that fortunate choice of special skill or terrific employer, and the classic, being at the right place at the right time.
    We're afraid our kids will be back to the desperate struggle, and won't want to hear much of grandparents' farm, patch, and mill house.

    November 27, 2011 at 12:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      I think you are right that many people fear that desperate struggle, forgetting that some good came of all of that difficulty.

      November 27, 2011 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
  32. A Time Traveler Too

    Dr. Bodnar,

    A beautiful and courageous piece. I empathize - in my 40s and a successful scholar, I can never quite leave behind the blue collar roots, nor am I sure I want to. I read somewhere that a millenium ago we would have become priests - that was the thing to do for the poor and smart (and male). I find too that the older I get, with success under my belt, I care less who sees my roots. Because I can out-think, out -write, out-philosophize, and out-work nearly all of them. But I will never have their accustomed ease about their environment, because they grew up in it and I did not. I wish my parents played Mozart or read the Times, but they did not. I had rock and roll and smoked pot, should have been busted, pregnant, arrested, etc a hundred times over. All very amusing now, but not good reminiscence at the country club.

    Raising kids - that is hard, because we are torn both ways. I am proud of the security I provide them, but scared they will not know its worth. I teach them charity as best I can.

    You have done a beautiful, brave thing. And on this special weekend you have reminded me, and much more than me, that even if you can never quite go home again, home is still in you. That kind of journey tells me that life is just bittersweet like that - the joy and the accomplishment and the pain and the loss are all mixed in.

    Peace be with you.

    November 26, 2011 at 11:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      Thank you so much. I know that the tug both ways that emerges when raising children. There is so much a parent wants to provide and to teach. The successes of the present matter as much as the difficulties of past.

      November 27, 2011 at 10:50 am | Report abuse |
  33. Sheryl

    Excellent article. I grew up on a farm in central Pennsylvania, but have not lived in that area for more than 35 years. I have a Ph.D. and work at a major urban university in the Midwest. As a young adult I struggled to fit in at “this fine place so far from home”—but within a few years seldom thought about my rural background. However, in recent years I’ve found a need to revisit my past, and I’ve been amazed how much I’ve enjoyed re-engaging with family and the area.

    My paternal Grandmother kept a diary from 1911 to 1914 when she was a high school student in rural Pennsylvania . I’ve been posting her diary entries and background information one hundred years to the day after she wrote them at http://www.ahundredyearsago.com . This activity has enabled me to better understand my northern Appalachian background—and to embrace both my roots and my present.

    November 26, 2011 at 11:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      Thank you for sharing your grandmother's diary entries. They give a feeling for life back then – both the differences and similarities. The popcorn recipe is timeless, no? So is a great deal of this elder generation's knowledge.

      November 27, 2011 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
  34. Rebecca

    Thank you for this article. I am not college educated but I was a single mother at the age of 19 and determined to provide a secure life for my daughter and I. I was able to find a well paying position in a small company that grew rapidly. Long hours and hard work paid off and I am extremely grateful for the employment opportunity. I am now 28 years young and an officer of a large corporation. I bought a new home for my daughter and I. I couldn't wait to hand over the certified check for my 30% downpayment. I bought my first new car, a BMW. Prior to my BMW, every car before that sounded like a spaceship taking off. I was proud, so proud. The phrase I heard most from friends and family for the next year was, ”must be nice”. I was naive to think my friends and family would be genuinely happy for my new found secure life. Needless to say, I sold the BMW for a Ford Edge to have the appeal of being modest. There is a great lesson to be learned from these experiences that our next generation can be taught. I will teach my daughter to be genuinely happy for any individual that has found success in any which way they have found it. Time cannot be turned back but the cycle can be broken. Be proud of where you came from but also be proud of where you're going. Wasn't this the American dream our parents told us about?

    November 26, 2011 at 11:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      The dream is complicated, right? Sometimes the dream feels like it is about material things. Then, in the end, it often isn't. Or maybe the material things are part of the dream that seems also to be about the chance to be who you most authentically are to the fullest possible extent.

      November 27, 2011 at 10:59 am | Report abuse |
  35. E Connor

    Oh, do get over your precious, precocious self. Gag.

    November 26, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • jos

      Hey, Pot! Hey, Kettle! Meet your friend, E Connor!

      November 27, 2011 at 10:04 pm | Report abuse |
  36. oilfeilds

    you know susan i grew up in the military not having a since of Being. no place to call home, my great great grand parents built a church in 1838 which is still standing to this day.i went there sitting in the same orginal pew once held my father in grandfather,and i have felt religion also played a role. it was a place for gathering, ideas, means, it seems the church came the vocial point of past life,try to survive, cause coming to this country and planting your roots was easy,cause pple back then knew what they wanted , they didnt have some one else decide for them.did i find my so called "home" yes but not in the church. i found it with my self.

    November 26, 2011 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      You are right that religion doesn't serve the purpose that it once held within communities. Many people are trying very hard to sort out religion's role in their personal and communal lives. This is especially true since the notion of self has also undergone many changes over the years.

      November 27, 2011 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
  37. NeverPost

    Your article struck home. I am from WV. First to get a degree in family and have become fairly successful in corporate America. I am also a mixed race of Native American, English, German ... I have started to tell people when they ask that I am Appilachian. Just another way that I do not fit easily into a typical cultural model. One thing I have found is that in corporate America I relate more to those that are a generation ahead, because their life experiences are closer to mine, which in some ways helped me. However, I too have struggled with feeling like an outsider in both my family and work circles. Diversity experts are just starting to recognize the need to address those of us that fall outside the normal person of color scenario and few really understand how isolated someone with significantly different economical and regional cultural backgrounds can feel as they try and bridge these cultures.

    November 26, 2011 at 11:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      I give a great deal of credit to the newer incarnation of diversity programs that recognize that even white people can feel outside the cultural mainstream. Thank you for sharing your story!

      November 27, 2011 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
  38. Kit

    Susan, this is a great piece that resonated with me . I am the daughter of Midwestern farmers. My parents did not graduate high school in the 1950s, instead dropping out and marrying young. They worked very hard at farming, construction, and factories to make a living for our family and struggled financially their whole lives. Although I did not know it at the time, I grew up quite poor in money, but so rich in so many other things. We had strong communities that pulled together to help each other, pride in our German and Scandinavian roots, incredible work ethics, love of the land, and intact families. I was the first to go to college, and before long I moved to the west coast away from my rural community of origin. I have never forgotten where I came from, but I have to say I have spent my adult life of 30 years trying to figure out my place in the world. I don't quite fit in in either world, although I feel like I have been true to myself by continuing to learn and try to advance myself even if it has caused more difficulty in my relationships with family. My husband comes from a similar background, however his family has been more accepting and encouraging of those few who got higher educations. There are certainly family variations in this. I have always found this subject of class movement in America fascinating. I look forward to reading more from you on this subject.

    November 26, 2011 at 11:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      Not being a part of either world is how so many people feel. There are so many good things that come out of financial instability. There are so many good things that can come out of financial stability. It takes a lifetime to pull the best from both worlds and create a coherent life narrative for the present.

      November 27, 2011 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
  39. JL

    I really liked this article. In our country, there is an old saying that roughly translates to "If you don't acknowledge where you came from, you will not reach your destination/where you wish to go."

    November 26, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • oilfeilds

      thanks Susan bodnar for being who you are, real people like you is what makes the world turn

      November 26, 2011 at 11:08 pm | Report abuse |
  40. Prarie Girl

    At the risk of sounding out-of-touch, it seems to me Ms. Bodner's experiences give her a broader perspective than either her family of origin or the urban sophisticates are able to claim. I certainly understand her feeling of being a perpetual outsider (I am familiar with this myself) but her close ties to both environments allow her to see the virtues and values of both populations. Coal miners and the intelligentsia will never be bloodless caricatures for her; they are her family, her friends and complex, layered, fascinating individuals. By keeping one foot in McAdoo and the other in Manhattan, Ms. Bodnar will never have the easy confidence adult natives of either region enjoy. It is the people who stand in one spot that seldom lose lose their balance. Instead, her horizons have expanded to include both cultures. From my point of view, that's a reasonable tradeoff.

    November 26, 2011 at 10:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      I think most people feel that there is much to be gained by remaining part of all their worlds. The act of doing so, however, can be challenging. Sometimes it seems that people do it privately because there aren't always easy words to describe the tensions and the gifts that come as a result of doing so.

      November 27, 2011 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
  41. Jim Roushey

    I left my small hometown in Eastern Pa at 18 and joined the Navy. My ancestry is diverse and traces to Saxony, Germany in 1734. I am 66 but after the death of my first wife I have re-married and now have three wonderful children and another on the way. My wife is formerly from Egypt but is now a proud citizen, no patriot, of the USA.

    November 26, 2011 at 10:45 pm | Report abuse |
  42. Michelle

    Most of us, in this generation, reaped the rewards of our hardworking parents and grandparents. Our children probably have no idea of the hardships of our grandparents and how hard our parents worked to achieve an ability to send us to college and go on nice vacations. The interesting thing that we discovered in full is the Schadenfreude that our relatives who did not think to work so hard, or our old friends who settled now have for us. They want to see us fail. If you allow these people to reject you because you haven't failed you are just allowing them to pretend that their "not taking the hard road" was a really REALLY smart choice. America is different, or WAS different from any other country, in that it allowed you to succeed if you really busted your tush to attain it. I did, and I feel no sympathy for those who drank beer and partied while I worked. Why are you allowing those people to make you feel guilty? Spend time with them, but be proud and show their children that the life that they are living is not the end of the road for them. They do have a future.

    November 26, 2011 at 10:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • oilfeilds

      this is journalism at its best, we can never go back, my parents grew up in the depression years, cloth didnt matter parties, didnt matter, what matter was survival.food, and work hard, a loaf of day old bread at the bakery with fat back meat nothing more,if we look back to those pple, look they lived in a black and white world,coming to this country wasnt easy,and im sure not all had papers to come here, but they did it why cause they want a better life for them self,my family served from the great spanish american war to ww2. factory industury changed pple lives,woman rights,and technolgy is here, changing who we are once again,we are who we are what we have become is people the human race

      November 26, 2011 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
  43. Liza

    Very well written article. Thank You.

    November 26, 2011 at 10:27 pm | Report abuse |
  44. Moms Hugs

    You have kicked off one of the best discussions on why our country is experiencing significant social division between the semi-haves and the have-not-wannabes. Many stories reflect the division between those who earned college degrees and those who have not, but it seems much of this division is driven by talk shows calling educated people "elite" as if it's a dirty word. Comments here suggest an angst experience by those who left poverty behind by getting an education. Pursuit of a higher education used to be seen as good for the country. When did it become something bad for the country & why???

    November 26, 2011 at 10:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      I feel honored if indeed I have helped kick off a productive discussion. Reading these comments has been very powerful and important for me and I am learning with each and every one of them. While I may speak privately about these issues with some people, bringing this dialogue out into the public discourse has helped me realize how complex, important and compelling are the facets of this conversation. I haven't synthesized all the components of what is happening here just yet but I am very grateful for to many contributions that people are bringing to this article.

      November 26, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
      • Moms Hugs

        I hope you will continue this discussion because I plan on following it on my Moms Hugs blog [http://momshugs.blogspot.com].

        November 26, 2011 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kaylan

      The problem is that there are many in Ms. Bodnar's generation who did not have the opportunity to go to college, either because their parents were poor or they had parents who didn't realize the importance of a higher education. And due to the lack of knowledge at how important sending your kids to school was (back then), those same children now adults have to suffer continually through employment that can not support them or their families. Most companies do not care about the employee but only care about their profit margin. The idea of settling into a job, having a pension (which is what everyone really needs when you have a family to support) is really not the way it is today (nor has been in a long time). I think Ms. Bodnar's past gives her a unique perspective for the work she does. She can certainly emphasize with those who have to deal with two cultures. As to her "higher end" status, well, she is just very fortunate she had parents who started her on the path of education. She should commend those parents and family who supported her, and hopefully give back to them and her community with the rich earnings she makes. After all, they really were the backbone of her initial steps into a better word.

      November 26, 2011 at 11:54 pm | Report abuse |
  45. delifresh

    Dr. Bodnar, this is a book! Write it and include some of us who have suffered from a sort-of imposter syndrome..."if they knew where I came from they would never accept me!" I have thought there should be a book with all of those missing pieces that many of us didn't acquire during childhood. Finally, I admit, I have been guilty occasionally of being judgemental of those who can't/don't pick themselves up by their bootstraps. IF I CAN DO IT ANYONE CAN! 🙂

    November 26, 2011 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      I'm very touched and moved by all the stories in the comments. I am trying very hard to respond to each person because each story belongs to someone's heart. It takes tremendous courage to share things so deep and so personal, worries and embarrassments that people have lived with their whole lives. I am wondering how to honor all the contributors here and hope that I can do so in my work going forward.

      November 26, 2011 at 10:06 pm | Report abuse |
      • Moms Hugs

        Dr. Bodnar ~ I think you have touched a very sensitive nerve and suggest that you invite readers to email their personal stories or comments to you. You will need a special email account. Post the invitation & email address in your blog... and back here, too... and get ready for the 1000's you are likely to get!

        November 26, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
  46. StillSearching

    Lovely, enlightening article. Thank you for exposing another facet of that ever-changing shape called diversity. As a black American, one issue that keeps me in therapy is classism. Moreso than racism, classism has reared its ugly head throughout my life – or, rather, I have allowed it to. I couldn't wait to get far from where I came from, a small very working-class neighborhood in Washington, DC. I went to a "fancy" prep school in the city, where often the locker room talk was around who would be available to show someone's horse. I was either a curiosity, somewhat of a social pariah, or ignored. To the few other blacks in the school, most of whom had "professional" parents, I was an embarrassment, I think because I was a reminder of where THEIR families came from. In a very short time, I went from academic superstar to miserable failure – and nobody questioned the slide, because it was expected. At this late date (I am 57) I have come to recognize my role in my failed life, and wish I could live it over again. The first thing I would do is acknowledge the classism as an obstacle, and not let it stop me. I have learned much more than appears externally, and I love what I learned, and continue to learn. I have an incredible appreciation of my roots. thank you for your article.

    November 26, 2011 at 9:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jenny

      StillSearching, I can relate to your post completely though we are at different spectrums race and age wise. Having come from a rural, uneducated, blue collar family and being the first to graduate college, I thought the hard part was over....you know getting to college etc. But it was only just beginning. I've spent the last 14 years never feeling as if I fit in. I have a foot in both worlds now (poor working class and mid/upper white collar) and surprisingly I now fit into neither world. One world thinks I'm too uppity, the other thinks I'm not good enough. It's amazing how inferior that can make a person feel. I'm surprised by how often I'm aware of being judged. The goal that is always pushed on us is to do better. But no one told me how to handle it when you get to the "better" only to have so many look at you as if you don't belong or that it was a fluke that you're there now despite the fact that it was your own hard work that got you there.

      November 26, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • delifresh

      Could it be that even though you are "StillSearching", you have something to offer young people today who undoubtedly feel the same way you did and could learn from your experience. Notice I said experience, not "failure" as you described it. You have something to share that others can appreciate and learn from. Not everyone's path is a straight line, some of us take a roundabout to get to the good stuff. 🙂

      November 26, 2011 at 9:38 pm | Report abuse |
      • Jenny

        StillSearching, I totally agree with what delifresh is saying here. There is a lot to be learned from your experiences.

        November 26, 2011 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      Thank you for sharing your experience. I don't think anyone intends to be classist but it does happen and it is very painful, enough to thwart anyone's dreams. It is so easy for people to focus on what they have without realizing the different experience of the person sharing the locker room. I'm glad that you can be open about it, now. You are not alone and many, many people have lost their way because of how hard it was to face the embarrassment of differences in wealth. Ins one ways, we just don't know how to discuss this, how to talk about it together. Maybe these hundreds of comments are a beginning.

      November 26, 2011 at 9:53 pm | Report abuse |
      • jamesnyc

        Wow, just too much to say. Can't write it. "keep up with the jones" is alive and well. and people with small town hard work ethics will be taken advantage of every time. I have lived it.

        November 26, 2011 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
  47. Nila masagi

    These very nice and you right mrs Susan

    November 26, 2011 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      Much appreciated.

      November 26, 2011 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
  48. Janos

    Hi Susan, it is off topic a bit, but.. i hope you did not forget about your long-ago home country, Hungary, I assume that is the origin of your name. It is a very common name over there. Best wishes, good luck!

    November 26, 2011 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse |
  49. Jenny

    I grew up in an all but abandoned coal community in the northern-most part of Appalachia. I was the first to get a college degree. Can you imagine being a white female born and raised in the United States, moving to a city and being put in ESL (English as a Second Language) because my grammar and dialect was so bad? Well it happened to me. ESL apparently is not just for non-English speaking folks. I remember little about it but it gives me a good story to tell people now.

    November 26, 2011 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      That is a very good metaphor of what it can feel like to come from a different place. It can really seem like different languages.

      November 26, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Report abuse |
      • Moms Hugs

        Still chuckling about the ESL comment. I moved from the upper Midwest to the Deep South and felt like I had moved to Italy & didn't know the language. Native Georgians correct my pronunciation of "root" all the time (to sound like "boot" rather than "foot" as I did). They didn't know there's another pronunciation elsewhere. When I had a silk suit made in Thailand, their tiny ladies couldn't stop chattering & giggling as they passed under my arms measuring. I asked the manager what was so funny & he said the ladies were calling me a "gentle giantess" because I was such a tall woman. Traveling beyond our comfort zone – whether in or out of country – also shapes who we become and how we interact with others unlike ourselves.

        November 26, 2011 at 11:24 pm | Report abuse |
  50. Janos

    It is off topic a bit, but Susan, I hope you did not forget your home country as well--I assume that your name is Hungarian. 🙂 Bodnár is a very common name there. Good luck, wish you the best

    November 26, 2011 at 9:00 pm | Report abuse |
  51. Love German Shepherd Dogs!

    Attention Roc: So true! I ate breakfast on Wednesday morning at McDonald's with a good friend. He was the youngest of 14 children; his father deserted his family when my friend was 6 months old. When he was 4, his mother died. There were 14 children (this was in 1934) to be "farmed out" to other relatives and orphanages.....

    Tears appeared in his eyes as he was telling me this story. He told me that I would never be able to understand what misery and degradation he endured as he was shuffled from family to family.

    At the age of 16, he dropped out of school, lied about his age, and joined the Marine Corps and was sent to Korea in 1951. During his time in Korea, he got his GED.

    After being honorably discharged in 1954, he was admitted to ********** Tech, and after 4 years graduated as an electrical engineer. He is now a multimillionaire, having sold his business12 years ago for many millions of dollars. He credits God, and the Marine Corps, for being what he is today.

    He has NEVER forgotten where he came from and has helped SO MANY PEOPLE!

    November 26, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Moms Hugs

      Thank you for sharing your friend's life story, which should be made into a movie. While reading, I imagined several older male actors as him. He would be such an inspiration to millions of young men who feel adrift at this juncture in their lives.

      November 26, 2011 at 9:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      Beautiful and inspiring story. Thank you.

      November 26, 2011 at 9:58 pm | Report abuse |
  52. Ann Dolores Bodnar Foti

    How sorry we are to hear of your Grandmother's deaath. Julie was a great lady but your granddad died much too early.(.Jeanne is our daughter,who gets caught up in her roots) . Had we known, you can be sure we would have been in McAdoo for the funeral. Thank you for your article, it brought back many memories of days gone by.

    November 26, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      Hi Ann, Thank you for your thoughts. It was very sad to lose Julie. She was alone many years without JC. My grandfather did die far too young. They gave me great courage, and values that have sustained me my whole life. I appreciate connecting.

      November 26, 2011 at 9:57 pm | Report abuse |
  53. Paul

    What a beautiful article ! I also had a similar background. Add the fundamentalism that someone else mentioned and my life could have been over along time ago. However, through education and the love of my wife and children,I have become a positive contributing member of society. I still grieve for the misguided beliefs of many of my hard working relatives and friends from back home. They really are good people but are so consumed by the lies and rumors they hear everyday on Fox News that they can't see how the rich and powerful are taking advantage of them and constantly laughing their way to the bank.

    November 26, 2011 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      It seems very easy for all people to lose their own sense of the truth. I'm not sure how or why this happens but I think it is very related to how very disconnected people are from their stories. This country has so much to offer but sadly many people still live with a good deal of pain related to their family histories that are often mostly cultural and historical. Sometimes it is easier for people to adopt someone else's narrative.

      November 26, 2011 at 10:12 pm | Report abuse |
  54. KimG


    Really excellent piece. I can relate so much to this, as my grandfather was a coal miner in Kentucky, and my parents both grew up in near-poverty conditions after the coal industry fell apart in that area. Even though my parents (who left Kentucky) made a comfortable, middle class life for me and my sister, I always felt a sense of shame growing up about our family's history. It's sad when you are young and worried about "fitting in" and can't understand the stories of survival that make life so rich. I think when you are young, there is also a sense of fear– or being only one generation away from that poverty and struggle. I was always afraid my friends would find out that my grandparents still lived in a tiny cabin on the side of a mountain which also had an outhouse until the mid 1980's. That was their life, and going there to visit was like visiting a place where time had stopped. And in a way, it did, when the coal mining jobs dried up. Thank you for the thought-provoking piece, and a reminder that our histories are important.

    November 26, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      Thank you for sharing this story. So many people have a version of the cabin and the outhouse in their lives, yet it is often the last thing people feel comfortable sharing. My grandparents' farm originally had an outhouse and I was just speaking to my father about how hard that was for him both because it was so hard to live that way and because it was embarrassing.

      November 26, 2011 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
  55. Moms Hugs

    Susan, I'm looking forward to reading your subsequent blog posts on this issue. I highly recommend the movie "October Sky" told by the son of a coal-mining kid who became a NASA rocket scientist because he DREAMED it and talked his 3 buddies into helping, including a very smart kid that all the kids made fun of at school. Another key component we often forget – just one teacher who encourages & supports. If you haven't seen that movie, please do.

    As you are delving into this sensitive issue of reconciling those who leave for better pastures with those who stay behind, please bring into the discussion the history of human development resulting from migration. PBS recently produced a series on brain development with increased stimulation of taking risks with facing new opportunities. The growth of axions requires such stimulation. NPR recently broadcast a program about ape & monkey studies, which show tremendous brain development based upon their environment. Results were significant in the "middle class" environment (40% increase) versus "lower class" and "upper class" environs.

    Please write about any studies that show a strong correlation between higher IQ and pursuing a better life for oneself? If so, do people born into wealth and raised with little to no struggle still develop greater increase in IQ? I truly believe this factor alone is a good indicator of where the future lies for our children's children.

    I came from a poor family in a very rural area in the middle of the continent & married right out of high school. I worked to support our family (2 kids) while my husband completed college & medical school with very little debt. Then I finally got my chance & worked my way through college & law school with no debt. Three years later our children started & went through graduate schools. For 31 years, we were free of paying tuition for only 3 years while they were in high school. Seeing parents work & study hard certainly set the standards high for our children, which is how all 4 of us managed to achieve professional lives that allowed an upper-middle class lifestyle. Family values of education & hard work are instilled in each of us and I can only hope our grandchildren will continue those values.

    Susan, please remind us that we all need to acknowledge the debt we owe to coal miners who made possible inventions that increased our standard of living. We also need to remember those inventors & innovators of modern plumbing (flush toilets) to the major hydroelectric dams (Hoover & TVA) and coal-fired plants that brought the nation electricity. The Rural Electrification Act of 1935 was instrumental in helping towns and farms in rural areas increase production as well as industrial cities. Many, if not most, inventors lived in poverty while pursuing a dream of a machine. An example is the 14 year old kid who invented television while driving a tractor up & down potato fields on his dad's Idaho farm. He, too, had a teacher who encouraged him to pursue his dream.

    I loved the learning environment of college, but many classmates that were supported by parents seemed bored with it all. As a result, I believe our society as a whole would benefit from requiring ALL high school graduates to spend 2 years in civil or military service. The discipline & hard work would benefit the younger generations & be a great leveler.

    November 26, 2011 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      These are all very helpful ideas! Many people in these comments seem to really want to expose kids to deeper and more complex life experiences. I'm also noticing that many people are trying to figure out how more people can share in the very good things that middle class culture can offer. I am thinking very hard about your ideas and those of others in these comments and listening in a very generative capacity. Thank you.

      November 26, 2011 at 10:23 pm | Report abuse |
  56. Georgia

    I had a conversation with my cousin once along similar lines as your article. We both have resources now that exceed what we grew up with. I would never wish his children or mine the particular daily panic associated with being poor. But our early lives made us strong and resourceful, and it is a bittersweet feeling raising children who take comfort for granted. In addition, the stuff of my childhood makes me a Daniel Boone among space travelers and it can be disconcerting straddling both frontiers.

    November 26, 2011 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      It is very hard to find the right balance. There seems to be an emphasis on protecting children rather than teaching them through experience.

      November 26, 2011 at 10:19 pm | Report abuse |
  57. Rodney

    Wow – what a wise person your Grandmother was, I love the message "Don't forget where you come from". I admire the author for being so real. Many times in a big city environment you get people posing to appear more elegant. Most "New Yorkers" who act haughty are actually not from there. I like to nail them by asking "where were you born?". I'm from a suburb just outside the city, but 3 previous generations of my family lived in working class parts of NYC – and none put on airs – they were real. To come from a rural coal mining community is certainly something to be proud of. Great that this author has the wisdom to see it.. Thanks

    November 26, 2011 at 8:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      I come from a family of many very wise people. Thank you.

      November 26, 2011 at 10:16 pm | Report abuse |
  58. Sherri

    Dr. Bodnar,

    II come from indentured Irish. I come from Welsh and Norwegian and Scots that got on a ship and crossed the ocean, hoping to just have enough food to not starve. They asked nothing other than a chance to work, with no expectation of anything more. There was a time, in my 20's , when I was ashamed of being 'working class'. Then, I began to grasp that being working class is an honor, and one should take pride in it. If we forget where we came from,then we stop placing a value on where we have gone. Thank you.

    November 26, 2011 at 8:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      That is beautiful, thank you.

      November 26, 2011 at 8:26 pm | Report abuse |
  59. Lee

    Dear Dr. Bodnar,

    Thank you for your article- I moved from a similarly economically depressed area (a small town in Alaska devastated by the closing of its lumber mill) to NYC to continue my education (first high school and now college) and I've struggled with the same issues. I grew up learning to hold in highest respect those who work to support their families and the community regardless of their job or level of education, and it's difficult to adjust to a place where more value is placed on the latter. I'm also trying to come to terms with what I want for my own life- the career I'd like to pursue involves many more years of schooling with a group of people (although I imagine I'll come across exceptions of course) who grew up with different values and that I feel uncomfortable around. I understand that the culture of each area developed that way for a reason and I appreciate the city for many things, but its just hard to be reminded in some way every day that you just don't fit in with the way of life around you and you soon won't fit in with the way of life you left.
    In any case, it was very encouraging to read an article written by someone who has struggled with similar (if not even more difficult) issues. All the best to you, and thanks for speaking up at your parents' meeting!

    November 26, 2011 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      I wish I could say that what you are trying to do isn't really hard. It is incredibly difficult because most people might not readily recognize or understand what you know and what you have experienced. You may seem out of place or awkward, maybe even having a perspective that doesn't easily resonate with others. The divisions in our society are wide and discouraging. Yet, your presence is a hopeful and positive sign about the wish or desire for our society to be more open. Trust in who you are and don't feel afraid to share your "different" perspective, and let people know about a small town in Alaska that lost its main industry because there is great wisdom in that knowledge. You might help other people better understand people not like themselves and lessen the divide that separates so many in our country.

      November 26, 2011 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • AM

      Strangely, I have lived exactly the opposite life! I grew up in Manhattan – not with much money but with highly educated parents. I was raised to accept that it is not who you are or how much money you have but the level and quality of the education you complete which ranks your value! I remember feeling pity for those who attended public universities or colleges deemed well below an ivy league. As an adult, I moved to a depressed area to the west – an area where no one cares about the name brand of schools, but only about the quality of work and effort! Where everyone is friendly and helpful and people enjoy living and sharing. My own children have attended public school ONLY and are looking to large state universities with economic diversity for college. Good how experience forces us to grow.

      November 26, 2011 at 8:39 pm | Report abuse |
  60. steelergirl

    This is a great article! Thank you from a reader who lives within a stone's throw of slag heaps and abandoned coal mines.

    November 26, 2011 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      Thank you! The view of the abandoned anthracite mining effort is always so intense, right?

      November 26, 2011 at 8:15 pm | Report abuse |
  61. CarolSong

    Thank you for writing this. I grew up in small town New England. We were poor and my mom tried to join those more fortunate... always feeling less than. Add to that we were Fundamentalists. You have NO idea what a horrid way that is to grow up. This article made me feel a little bit less lonely inside... not quite so much an outsider. And I"m 65 years old.

    November 26, 2011 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      No one who is 65 deserves to feel like a lonely outsider. People in our society aren't always at their best, and that can really hurt. I'm glad that you posted, thank you.

      November 26, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
  62. Peter E

    Coal miners work long hours, have very few benefits, get paid the bare minimum, and most of them die prematurely (their life expectancy is about TWENTY years shorter than the average) due to black lung or other disease related to their job.
    On the backs of these coal miners are the coal executives who make multi-million dollar salaries AND bonuses, amounting to nearly one HUNDRED times grater than the coal miners... Is it because they work one hundred times longer hours? Is it because they take one hundred times greater risks? Is it because their work is one hundred times more difficult? No. It's because they rob their workers of the fair wages due to them, and then still have the galls to blame the poor miners for their condition. Oh, and also, they keep demanding further tax breaks AND subsidies so they can balance their budget after having given themselves the multi-million dollar bonuses. 'Oh, but the poor don't pay taxes!' Of course they don't. That's because they have already been robbed of that money, and more, by their bosses who would not give them their fair pay.

    November 26, 2011 at 7:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      Peter, you are beautifully articulating one of the great angers of our society at this moment. I can't explain the discrepancy between those who own the mines and those who work in them. My memories of my family members in the mines and those in other labor industries pain me because they worked so hard with so much risk. While the UMW achieved more equitable UMA wages and better working conditions, the gap was and is very wide between those who work and those who oversee. The anger that you feel needs to be part of our national dialogue about class. Thank you for sharing it.

      November 26, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
  63. Russ

    Funny thing is, I liked the good old days. Those were the 1960's. However, my parents believed the country was going to hell. Every generation has it's own reality.

    November 26, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Granite Sentry

      No, they were right. The country IS going to Hell, it's just that the trip is playing out over several generations so each cohort has its own particular share of the collapse and has trouble seeing the whole thing. Pay close attention and you'll see that it's really getting progressively worse. Granitesentrydotcom.

      November 26, 2011 at 7:44 pm | Report abuse |
  64. kayjulia

    I think you were given way to much guilt by your grandmother who was trying to stop you from leaving your "place". You're a successful adult now and you can take that guilt trip off your back and lay it down. You worked your way out of the "Patch" you deserve what you have, you don't owe anyone anything. Many of us coming from social and economically challenged positions have been made to feel inferior-so what it it part of growing up, get over it and move on grow some thicker skin lady there are worse places and things in people's lives than yours. Your origins are not that bad or unusual except to you and the occasional ass you'll meet.

    November 26, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
  65. Dennis

    Please clarify what "you people"indicates.What kind of nonsense are you trying to communicate?

    November 26, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
  66. Barry

    All wannabe writers are here for the taking.

    November 26, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ann

      I don't want to remember my roots, I didn't have a happy childhood and why should I worry about it, I haven't turned into a snob! Sometimes people who get more educated do! Like education has something to do with making you above others. Ir doesn't it and shouldn't. In fact I admire people who went thrgouh the school of hard knocks and became successful, any day over the "degreed" ones.

      November 26, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  67. Calvin

    As someone who choose to leave L.A. and move to SW Pennsylvania, I really enjoyed the article. No, I won't forget my roots (Washington State, California), but am enjoyed discovering the rich and sometimes tragic history of the numerous patch towns....most of them still extant but severely economically challenged. Again, really loved the article....

    November 26, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      Thank you. Those towns are economically challenged but fighting hard! Right?

      November 26, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
      • Calvin

        Yes, they are fighting. With the advent of easy access to automobiles, the patches aren't so isolated. Still, there is so little work. Beautiful country though.

        November 27, 2011 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse |
  68. Sally Moyer

    I was born in the big city of Pottsville and was raised in Branchdale. I can understand completely the white sterotypes and bias that you refer – I experienced in a small town bias too. As a society, we tend to create this bias – just because ....we can? I'm not affluent but I was fortunate to have a college education and this has allowed me to achieve a lot for me – not as much as those who had a head start because they were affluent. !!!! The good news is. I had the opportunity to see the bigger picture outside of my Pennsylvania coal mining roots and I appreciate how I was raised as well ....but the opportunities I had help create the person I am and the hopes that I pass onto my children only the good parts. All I can tell you is .... It's really a small town when you're looked upon as inferior because of your religion. My grandmother was a wise women. She had a very simple approach to all of this stuff we get caught up in today. 50 years ago I wanted to know why she didn't teach us her language. She told me. We are in America and must embrace this new country and it's ways.

    November 26, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      The biases in our society are terrible for all. Hopefully this dialogue begins an opportunity to try and see each other differently. Thank you.

      November 26, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
  69. plot26

    It seems to me that you have let your grandmother's fears (of losing you, of not being good enough or whatever) to cause you a great deal of guilt and insecurity. It's one thing to remember and honor your roots and quite another to let your grandmother cause you to feel guilt even after so many decades of hard work and success on your part.

    November 26, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      I'm thinking right now of what it would be like for her to see that picture of herself on the CNN homepage! She worried more that I would forget the lives of the people who made my life possible. I haven't but sometimes the translation between here and there is complicated, for many, many people.

      November 26, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
  70. Natrldiver

    As a child, my family constantly reminded me about where my family came from. They would talk of how times really were not just growing up through the depression, but going through as settlers in a new territory, struggles in survival as farmers in pre and post WWII. Understanding how difficult is can be, there was always one thing that they reiterated to me and the rest of my generation who are now grown with children of our own. That was that regardless of how difficult the situation, there was always family to be there to support. If a family cannot be close and supportive through the tough times, then it is pointless to be there through the good times as a fair-weather family member.

    November 26, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      I have many stories about that type of family togetherness, particularly during the depression. There are many good lessons that come from that period of time along with the hardship.

      November 26, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
  71. Pamela

    Oh Susan! How I would like to meet you. I grew up in Coalmont, TN and had the same struggles you have had. I was 27 before I went to college because I had a baby at 19. When I went to the university, I could not string a correct subject and verb together. It was difficult but I persevered. My success and the different way of looking at life caused a divorce and much heartbreak for me and my 2 children. I now live in the suburbs of Washington DC, and I still have the same (almost) Appalachian dialect. I am a teacher and when I teach teachers, I tell them about how I grew up and how when I first tried to break free, I lamented to God about why he had placed me in Appalachia. God answered through a professor that I still hold dear. Dr. Waldrop said, "Pamela, you wouldn't be who you are if not for Appalachia." That statement changed everything for me because I really like who I am, and the values instilled in me by my parents and 9 siblings are what has made me who I am. Yes, I still wonder what my life would have been like if I had been born to a San Fransico liberal, but I wouldn't trade my family for that life whatever it may have been.

    November 26, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      I also had a mentor once tell me that my own story would one day be my greatest asset. I believe that to be true for all of us – the stories of our past, the very stories that often cause feelings of shame are also our strength. Thank you for writing!

      November 26, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
  72. Ron

    Thank you, Dr. Bodnar, for this essay. I grew up in small town Indiana on a farm that has been in my family since the 1820s. A cousin still operates the farm. He's the 8th generation. I left, after high school, to attend a small liberal arts college. Ultimately completed a Ph.D. and have lived as an academic all my adult life. My grandfather described me as his grandson with soft hands. He knew I would not live my life on the farm. I'm toward the end of my professional career and have, over time, become more comfortable with my roots. My wife is from a much more upscale family than mine. Fortunately, she is comfortable with my family and they with her. My mother & grandmother taught how to cook many of the traditional family recipes. We've enjoyed many of those this weekend as a result. Recently, my father's youngest sister died at 81. Her final resting place, as will be mine, is the family cemetary on the farm. With each service we remind our family of its roots and heritage. Thanks again for your essay. It gave me pause to remember.

    November 26, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      An eighth generation farmer? Bravo to your cousin! This is a very sweet image of the family cemetery back on the farm. There is great richness to our collective histories and time for them to be more a part of our everyday memories and discourse. Thank you.

      November 26, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
      • Ron

        It is a tradition in the family that when someone marries into the family they are eventually taken to the cemetary and the family history is shared with them. It is part of bringing them into the family. Also, as children born into the family grow old enough to understand they too get a family history lesson. I go there occasionally to remind myself.

        November 26, 2011 at 8:16 pm | Report abuse |
  73. VIJAY

    I just had a word with my wife and she said (lol) first time wisdom word, that there shall not be any interference between parents (biological) and children by the authority, the children has been brainwashed and manipulated by the instigators from early age and that creates the wrong image towards the parents and small punishment in order to teach discipline has been labeled as child abuse. And because of this children loose the teaching of real old values.

    November 26, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • maryam

      Respectable Vijay and Mrs. Vijay: Golden words are spoken. Thank you for the enlightenment you bestowed on us today. I will sleep much easier tonight.

      November 26, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
      • VIJAY

        thx a lot for kind words

        November 26, 2011 at 9:57 pm | Report abuse |
  74. DD

    Don't ever apologize or feel bad about being successful from your own hard work or making something out of yourself. That's truly the dream of everyone.

    November 26, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      You are right. It is everyone's dream. That is one thing so many of us have in common!

      November 26, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • VIJAY

      make sure, Dream house shall not be on some one grave !!!

      November 27, 2011 at 12:11 am | Report abuse |
  75. Hal

    Dr Bodnar – I thought you told a good story, but nothing special. And then I started reading the comments. Somehow, you found a way to elicit some of the most reasoned intelligent discussions I have seen in some 10 years of reading CNN.com. You struck a nerve in a positive manner with a lot of people. Thank you.

    November 26, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • jos

      I think it was an excellent article, and I agree about the comments.

      November 26, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      The comments are very moving and meaningful. So many stories, so many people trying to make sense of different histories and different geographies as they live within one soul. I am honored to be part of this. Thank you.

      November 26, 2011 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • VIJAY

      It is not a story, but fact of life and every home in west !

      November 26, 2011 at 10:05 pm | Report abuse |
  76. maryam

    Your stories are commendable. However, when I read it I find a special sadness in my heart as my story is the inverse of yours.
    I came from a comfortable near-eastern family. Received an excellent education from Salisian Catholic school system in my home country. We emigrated to the West for reasons of political oppression. Some of us strived hard an worked to success while others didn't fare as well. We look back and see a devastated home country and no point to return. We feel caught between two opposing cultures. We are thankful of our opportunities in the west while some of us feel displaced and uprooted. To this date, we haven't seen any family members or been able to contact me as easily as other immigrants can do. It is hard to reflect and remember where we came from.

    November 26, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      It is very, very hard to know that people you love didn't fare as well as yourself. There is no way to reconcile your freedom and their pain except through the love in your heart. Live freely for them and you.

      November 26, 2011 at 7:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • VIJAY

      Dear maryam,
      this is the truth of all migrant families and all we face same problem, definition of the value and morals has been changed. we are busy to make money, have no time for children, and we blackmail them giving more money and facilities then old culture and values because of lack of times.
      God bless you.

      November 26, 2011 at 10:03 pm | Report abuse |
  77. VIJAY

    dear Susan,
    it is a bitter truth that rich children born to poor parents do not understand the real value of life, for new generation it is only material things, no value and if you try tell the values (old culture) you are old fashioned and backward. I am originally from India and same my wife, grew up in poor family but strong family values was the only base for our childhood, now I am a father of a girl, she was blessed and had more then she needed, had private schooling but for her, it is difficult to understand the old values, now i do not mean to be a mean father but it is the generic problem of the new generation and this will be first generation is going to make less money then previous generation. we need more susan, who has strength to tell us the values of old values, values do not fall in money.

    November 26, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      Many people are now talking about the fact that being overly resourced can cause some kids in our country lose something of value. I sometimes see that but not always. I do think that people with resources and without are all struggling to sort out what is meaningful about life, and how to create lives that can be easier and still laden with the values that make our country strong, vibrant and creative.

      November 26, 2011 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |
      • VIJAY

        I WISH, peoples like you are multifold to save our next generation and parents, who are just busy to make money and status, must read, understand and listen to you.

        November 26, 2011 at 9:56 pm | Report abuse |
  78. Joan

    A lot of Susan's story rings bells with me. I was also the first in my family to go to college, and had some difficulkty adjusting when I came home. But I "married up" and raised two wonderful daughters (both now successful business women) in a suburb of Pittsburgh. When the younger one began studies at an Ivy League school, she was called in for counseling. She didn't know what this was about, but went anyway. It turned out the counselor wanted to know if she was having any problems adjusting, since she was from Appalachia!

    November 26, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      LOL! I totally understand exactly what that is like. I also understand and remember time sin my life when I wished someone would have noticed the challenges I was facing because of the complex heritage I was carrying around inside of me.

      November 26, 2011 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
  79. SameHere

    While I have no critique of this written piece, the bottom line is that we all have a story. I too grew up in a small coal mining town and was fortunate enough to be able to go to college but I am not rich or have money to send my children to private schools. Others were not so lucky to get a higher education – they went to Vietnam and some never came home. Childhood was what it was and cannot be changed. What gets me are the people, who through social media contacts, continue to dwell on the good old days when you could leave car doors unlocked and children were not abducted walking home from school, etc, etc. I have no interest in rehashing the past because it cannot be changed and it probably was not as wonderful as we think it was. Times have changed everywhere so the best we can do is make the best of each day and look forward to and appreciate tomorrow.

    November 26, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      I'm glad that you mentioned Vietnam. That deserves a whole article in itself. My uncle served very honorably but came back with a good deal of disappointment because his service was not valued. In some way, we do all have the story of coming from pasts that weren't valued. It is important to keep moving forward, but those memories and those histories tend to follow us around begging for recognition. So I guess many people here are trying to move forward while holding hands with what was once true.

      November 26, 2011 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
  80. robbie

    back to your article.
    I grew up in Wise country, VA, coal mining country, My first marriage was to a lady from Hazelton, PA. I can tell you factually that Wise had less and more poverty.

    I remember when I was 12 yr old talking to my buddy, I asked what he was going to be. A coal miner of course, not me I had watched my grandfather die of black lung and knew I was not doing that. I would sell IBM computer or be a pilot. somehow I knew at 12, I had to leave and leave I did. Join the Force, went to night school and got a degree. Not quite so simple or straight forward but that was the result. One thing that you do learn is hard work and an understanding that life is what you make it.
    The people from the mines were hard working and very proud, expected nothing from anyone. This has changed. I have fond memories growing up that I would not exchange with anyone. I am not sure what makes one person move to better themselves and others not? Fear of the unknown and leaving what you know are prime factors in excaping. Wanting more and not accepting limits are forces of action. I suspect that there are many island of isolation that are trapped in no growth areas, these area are easy to spot, just look at a map with population distribution. Heavy concentrations on the coasts, with small concentrated pockets regionally.

    November 26, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
  81. lisa shafer

    Very nice article. Very well said.

    November 26, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  82. Kish

    Susa, Thanks for this thoughtful article. My maternal grandparents immigrated from a dirt-poor part of China and supported five children running a laundry in the 40s. Not speaking English, they lived as far away from the Oakland Chinatown as they could, so that their kids had a better chance of integrating. It's always good to remember where we came from - both to honor and appreciate what our families did, and also to use our opportunities to help others do the same.

    November 26, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  83. Love German Shepherd Dogs!

    My mother-in-law of 39 years passed away in March of this year. She was 84 years old. She was born just prior to the start of the Great Depression, and was raised poor, lived poor, married poor, but died a millionaire. . . . NOT by monetary standards, but because of all the blessings she had.

    When she passed away, she had only three teeth in her mouth; she was bent over from the waist, and could hardly walk. She had a TREMENDOUS capacity to comfort people when they were “down and out”.

    I would not have traded this old woman for the richest mother-in-law in Hollywood, or anywhere else. American men would be truly blessed if they had a mother-in-law such as mine.

    I feel for people who tend to look down on others because of their own social status. I can distinctively remember growing up as a child in the early to mid fifties, and watching grown men (one a former prisoner of war) standing up in church, tears running down their faces, as they praised God for letting them come home alive from WWII and also Korea.
    There are people today who would feel embarrassed to witness such a thing. This was small town America (in the South).

    We can scream our heads off at a football game, yet often people are offended when in a public restaurant they see someone bow their heads to thank God for their food.

    I would not trade my life for any of those lives of people who think that they are ‘better’ than others.

    Thank you for your very interesting article. May God bless you and yours!

    November 26, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  84. DN

    This article really resonated for me, thank you very much!

    November 26, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  85. Gerard Gober

    Susan – I believe you are my wife's cousin. She hails from Weatherly; her father owned Bodnar's Market – noted in your story.

    November 26, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      Indeed, I am related to your wife, but don't know if it is Kathy or Janey you are married to. Would love to see either again. Lots has happened in the years since we played together. Thank you for connecting.

      November 26, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
      • Gerard Gober

        Susan – thank you for the reply. I am married to Jane. Please let me know the best way to have her contact you,

        November 26, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
  86. sixillis

    Thank you for this, Doctor.

    November 26, 2011 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
  87. Janet Fiedler

    Dr. Bodnar:

    I, too, grew up in Pennsylvania, although in the urban environment of Philadelphia. My life today is so much more comfortable than it was when I was growing up.

    I have recently re-started searching my family's roots and, just today, discovered that one of my great-grandmothers was widowed at the age of 36, 3 months before giving birth to her fifth child. To support herself and her family, she became a washerwoman. I literally sat there at my computer and cried for this woman and her hard life, comparing it to my soft one.

    So, thank you for your heart-felt article about staying in touch with one's roots.


    November 26, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
  88. BlackYowe

    Please CNN print more pieces like this?. I found this so refreshing! Class struggle and the loss of the middle class are topics I would so like to read more about on here. We are a nation of immigrants and no one should feel shame about where they came from in this nation.

    November 26, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  89. MinnesotaSu

    Wonderful article!

    November 26, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      I am glad that you enjoyed it!

      November 26, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  90. Anna Muriglan

    Dr. Bodnar.
    I enjoyed reading your article about your present and of your background. How wonderful that you worked hard to better yourself and overcome the hardships your family encountered. My grandmother was also Bodnar in Eastern Slovakia, on the Ukranian border. She had a brother who came to the USA in the early years of the 20th century. His name was Bodnar Istvan (Stephan), Hungarian. He had a brother Bartalomew, sisters Maria and Rosa. Istvan had 3 daughters born here. This is the only thing I know about him and I am not looking for anything. I came here 40 yrs. ago, married my husband in Slovakia when he was visiting his home town, same where the Bodnars lived.

    November 26, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      Thank you. What town was this that the Bodnar's came from? I know this side of the family has Ukrainian roots along the Hungarian border. This is so interesting!

      November 26, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
      • Anna Muriglan

        The towns are Nagytarkany and Kistarkany. They are next to each other and the last villages on the triple boarder in Eastern Slovakia. The countries sharing boarders are Ukraine, Hungary and Slovakia. Before WWII many villagers used to travel to the markets on horse drawn wagons to Ungvar (Hungarian name) in the Ukraine. The villages around the boarder where all Hungarian speaking and after WWII the Czechoslovak government was trying to plant Slovak families into Nagytarkany to blend with the Hungarians. They were all boarder patrol officers with their families and lived in a government provided, well built apartment building at the end of town. The dividers between Hungry and Slovakia were the fields outside the towns and the river Tisza, patrolled by the officers. From the Hungarian side there were Army soldiers hidden in the bushes, watching the bathers in the summer on our side in Kistarkany, not to swim further than the middle of the river. If the bathers did, they appeared from behind the bushes with the drown guns and motioned you out of the river for booking. It was a day's trip to get back home from Hungry, through the official boarder crossing. Also, there is the levy around both towns protecting them from the flood waters of the Tisza in the Spring, the melting snow waters running down from the Karpatian Mountains. During the Austria-Hungry period a big part of Rumania, Ukraine and Slovakia belong to Empire. In Nagytarkany there was a one class room Slovak school, from grades 1-5 and the Slovak teacher lived in one room with husband, new born son and her mother, only a door separating them from the class room. As my father was a Hungarian speaking Slovak from around Kosice (Kassa-where he learned to speak Hungarian.) The government's job was to try to plant Slovaks into these Hungarian boarder towns, sent my father after WWII to Nagytarkany as general store manager and married my mother, who's mother was Bodnar Maria. I attended the first two years in the Hungarian school and from 3-5 in the one room Slovak school. (This was the compromise between my Slovak father and Hungarian mother. My Father spoke to us in Slovak and to our mother in Hungarian.) For the sixth grade and on I had to commute to the next town of Cierna nad Tisou, (brand new Slovak town, established after the WWII) and then to move on to Kralovsky Chlmec. The Hungarian school was up to High School. All the towns in the area are still Hungarian speaking and in Kralovsky Chlmec (Kiralyhelmec-the Hungarian name, about seven miles from Nagytarkany) the Hungarian Gymnazium is still functioning. This is a little bit about my history on the Bodnar side. My grandmother, Bodnar Maria, married Kalapos Pal and lived in Kistarkany.

        November 27, 2011 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
  91. American Citizen

    I won't. I have an excellent memory, though some are certainly trying to rid the earth of all of my family's memory. Such as changing street names or the names of places associated with my family of English/Scot/Irish/Jewish ancestry.

    My family is not from a coal patch.

    November 26, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • American Citizen

      and French.

      November 26, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  92. Leslie

    It's good you made it up out of the coal mines because Gen X, Gen Y, and Millennials will not have the same opportunity you did. While it is all well and good that you are assisting people who have arrived with the problems associated with success, it does seem somewhat pointless. The problem our country faces now is that it is downwardly mobile, not upwardly, so your client base will be shrinking.

    November 26, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      I think this is a real concern in this country and many are worried. I think this creates more divisiveness in our society than is good for its growth.

      November 26, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  93. Lynn

    Congrats to you for the article\blog. "Remember where you came from" rings familiar to me as well. Raised in Tamaqua..still make trips to Bresky's for chocolate prior to holidays when visiting my family. My work ethic, ability to weather a storm and loyalty without a doubt are a outcome of living in Schuykill County. I'm a city girl now...but remain proud of where I'm from. Despite the miles, I believe it is important to give back to the area which formed us. The local library, community programs and church kitchens need our support....

    November 26, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      I often think about how to give back. This article was a beginning, but there will be more opportunities, I hope.

      November 26, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  94. JAB

    I, 25 years old, on the other hand have a different story. My dad in life made a lot of wealth and power. He passed away 8 years ago and since 8 years ago my life has turned upside down. I moved to the US from Venezuela 7 years ago and (we) my family still live on the money he made. I graduated from college 2 years ago and since then I work hard, I volunteer a lot and I come across a lot of people who are confused about who I am. They see me in nice clothes and one of my dad's Cartier watches and they jump to conclusions thinking Im wealthy or my parents are. Once they understand my story, if they hear it, they are (unsurprisingly to me) content, very strange to me. Jealousy and stereotyping makes me sad it exists, especially when it exists among people with wealth, those who are supposed to be the more broad-minded. It is ridiculous and harming to any society to let greedy people, and by greedy I mean not necessarily about money but jealous and stereotypical people in a power position.. very harmful.
    My dad had power and wealth but he wasn't greedy. Me and my family are not greedy either. For some time we continued his giving patterns and big mistake. That motivates others to continue trying to take away from us what he made. Fortunately we as family have been growing up and getting more mature and not forgetting where we come from and who my dad and his role model figure means to us. He came from a small town and was the only one out of ten to make it huge in my home country's military.

    November 26, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • southeasttexasmom

      Are you claiming you are somehow a victim? You move to the greatest country in the world and you live off your father's money. The only thing sad about your story is that you lost your father at an early age. Other than that, you have lived a life that the 99% would love to live.

      November 26, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
      • JessicaLee

        Why complain about what other rich or other people, in general, think about you? Are we supposed to feel sorry for you? At the end of the day, you have your Father's money (you mention that over and over again), you have a roof over your head, and you've probably never had to go without food let alone work ever again if you didn't want to. Also, what's up with getting offended because someone thinks you're wealthy because you're wearing your Father's watch???? Come on, it's a Cartier watch. What else are people to assume? Imagine the alternative judgment. Being prejudged as being "wealthy" does not have the same connotation or inferiority tone that comes with being judged by the color of your skin, gender, or being of a "lower class", being from a less privileged background, or not having enough money. Nobody looks down on you; they want to kiss your ass. You don't get treated like air or with disdain.
        There's nothing wrong with being born into wealth and you shouldn't hide or be ashamed of it, as your Father worked very hard. You have the opportunity and resources to make a difference (even if small), so why not concentrate on that?

        November 26, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      Stereotypes exist in all directions, right?

      November 26, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
      • Alison

        Yes, stereotypes exist is all directions. It was refreshing to see an article about some of the stereotypes encountered by a white woman. As a wealthy white woman (with middle class values) I often find that people make all sorts of incorrect assumptions about me. People in my economic class wonder what's wrong with me because I don't have all the "stuff" they covet and people who don't have as much money assume I am a snob.

        November 26, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • JessicaLee

      Why complain about what other rich or other people, in general, think about you? Are we supposed to feel sorry for you? At the end of the day, you have your Father's money (you mention that over and over again), you have a roof over your head, and you've probably never had to go without food let alone work ever again if you didn't want to. Also, what's up with getting offended because someone thinks you're wealthy because you're wearing your Father's watch???? Come on, it's a Cartier watch. What else are people to assume? Imagine the alternative judgment. Being prejudged as being "wealthy" does not have the same connotation or inferiority tone that comes with being judged by the color of your skin, gender, or being of a "lower class", being from a less privileged background, or not having enough money. Nobody looks down on you; they want to kiss your ass. You don't get treated like air or with disdain.
      There's nothing wrong with being born into wealth and you shouldn't hide or be ashamed of it, as your Father worked very hard. You have the opportunity and resources to make a difference (even if small), so why not concentrate on that?

      November 26, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  95. Alois D. Baldwin


    November 26, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  96. Chris Esposito

    I can appreciate what Susan has written about. I also was raised in a relativley small town with parents who were very young when they had my sister and me. I remember the valuable lessons from my family: hard work, dedication, family values, etc. I, like Susan, have journeyed forth outside of my small home town and was the first to get a college degree. I experienced similar situations as Susan has where there is a culture shock when returning home for a visit and having such diverse experiences. I remember my mother telling me to stop writing such big words in letters home as a young college student. Ironically, I thought that I wrote poorly! I too have raised my girls to appreciate both small knit family life in addition to exploring the world. I am thankful for the lessons learned from my family and from my later experiences. Thanks for your insight Susan.

    November 26, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      Thank you, Chris. I love the way you framed raising your daughters – "a small knit family" and "exploring the world". That makes sense to me.

      November 26, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
  97. Tricia Stockman

    My Granddaughter is s Freshman at Weselyan. She has never lived in a small town. However, has spent summers in. Shafter. When I graduated from highschool I couldn't wait to leave the small town. Off I went to San Diego State University and spent the next 25 years living in large cities in California. I am very fortunate to have been able to return to my small town in1990. Purchasing my parents house which is now my house however, it will always be the Anderson houseon Pine St. One of the interesting features of this street is there are five of us who have come back to this street. Ummmm interesting

    November 26, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      I hope that your granddaughter enjoys Wesleyan! Very interesting that so many of you have returned to your home street. Leaving and coming back is quire a story.

      November 26, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  98. alice

    “I sometimes feel insecure, “ I said, “being around so many wealthy people and I’m having trouble with my extended family who think I’m being uppity by sending the kids to a private school.”

    Ms. Bodnar, your family will only think you're "uppity" if you present the private schools as by definition superior to what is available to them. My family has a wide range of incomes (and we all know that income doesn't always track with class) and the family divisions come with how wealth is used as a marker of inherent superiority and not as a simple number. If you are saying over dinner that "of course, public schools are all awful" then naturally your extended family are going to think you're a snob. If you can simply say "Jack's history class at St. Marks is really doing some interesting things." then that won't get anyone's back up.

    In most families it's not other's success that causes jealousy, it's that other's success is used as a way to denigrate. No one will think you're uppity if you respect everyone place in life. You don't have to hide who you are, people are usually proud of the relative that's "done good". But if you sit down and have a Pabst with your family, for god's sakes don't go on about artesian beers you can get at Whole Foods and it's a pity that they can't afford them.

    November 26, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      I agree with you. In my immediate family everyone has amazing strengths. For most families the very thing that creates these tensions is how hard it is to hold on to the concept of different but equal. This is a struggle in our nation as well.

      November 26, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  99. Tam

    Ms Bodnar, were your ancestors Ukrainian?

    November 26, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan Bodnar

      Yes, some were but not all.

      November 26, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3