3,000 miles away, in the podunk pastures of Columbia County in Central Pennsylvania, lies the land of Catawissa—estimated population: 1,514.
A Native American term for “growing fat,” Catawissa smells like it sounds; one of its most noteworthy charms is the fish food factory that wafts thick, rancid fumes through the single city street in the summer—a smell that, once it grows on you, incites a strange sense of nostalgia. Another staple of Catawissa is $.50 cent pint nights of Lager, properly referred to as Yuengling Lager, America’s oldest brewery and best sh*tty beer (seriously, check the ranks), served at the good ol’ Cracker Barrel, a biker-friendly dive bar not to be confused with the country cookin’ franchise, Cracker Barrel, also represented in Columbia County.
Missing from Catawissa’s list of charms is diversity, with its near 98% white population. Welcome to my hometown, where police corruption is commonplace—my friends and I once got pulled over and searched simply for “dressing funny”—and favored recreational activities include huntin’, fishin’ and possum stompin’, a particularly brutal sport where high school children park off the side of country roads, spotting possums to chase and club down.
Catawissa is to Corvallis as canned beans are to edamame… Catawissa is like a distant inbred cousin to a whole other town Corvallisites have only ever joked about. Don’t get me wrong, I love my hometown, with its rustic charm built on outdated ideologies and a self-defacing sense of humor/sh*t-talk, trademark of the East Coast. Here, civilians can relish in the luxury of pumping their own gas, opposite to the West Coast luxury of watching while someone else pumps their gas whilst sipping kombucha out of rain’s reach.
The Silent Majority Won’t Be Silenced, Apparently
On a trip home in August I noticed a few alarming additions to the Catawissa area. First, a giant highway billboard sporting the campaign phrase, “Make America Great Again” on my way to the neighboring college town of Bloomsburg, where one storefront featured a lifesize cardboard cutout of Trump, a giant American flag, and a sign stating “the silent majority stands with Trump.” Thanks for the memo, silent majority. We hear you loud and clear.
Most recently, the KKK have been making their rounds in the Bloomsburg area, distributing flyers on people’s front lawns under bags of rice. The Press Enterprise, the area’s only local news source—there is no alternative newspaper in Bloomsburg or Catawissa, so consider yourselves (hashtag) blessed, Corvallisites—featured the pamphlet on the front page, with its hotline number and website information for all to see. One pamphlet was quoted as boasting “technological advancements of our people — from the megalithic calendar of Stonehenge to the moonwalk of the Apollo astronauts — are unequaled.” Apparently, they didn’t see Hidden Figures.
Angel Rojas, Hispanic Bloomsburg resident of 15 years and a dear friend of mine, has “always had to deal with the periodic racial slur chucked out of a window from a pickup truck.” However he’s noticed a recent heightened transparency. “It is more visible with the ‘Make America Great’ hats and bumper stickers. They all might as well be swastikas to me.”
Rojas continues, “I think the racism I’ve always observed is just a little braver.”
Being a mostly white, middle class neighborhood, Rojas made the observation that people generally “regurgitate whatever they hear. They don’t challenge the status quo of thought. They find most of it to be in the periphery.”
For comfort, Rojas does what all we Bloomsburg and Catawissa folk do: he drinks copious amounts of alcohol with like-minded friends in the dim-lit, smoke-filled sanctuary that is Hess’s Tavern.
Don’t Get Me Wrong
Of course, these incidents and sweeping generalizations don’t define every identity in the Bloomsburg/Catawissa area—take me or Rojas, for example.
On my last trip home in February, I hardly noticed any blatant or hostile onslaught. This might be because I fall into Rojas’s “periphery” category, being from a white, middle-class upbringing. However, let me humbly add that it’s all in where you place your attention. Even in the company of family members with opposing political views, I stayed positive and focused on the present. Which is not to say these conditions should be ignored or swept aside.
Just remember how lucky we are to live in such an accepting, progressive community, Corvallisites. And lend an ear out there to all those outnumbered by the masses that are playing a distinct role in the regressive, oppressive political climate.
By Stevie Beisswanger