Don’t you wanna move to a small town and live out your cottagecore dreams? As someone who was born and raised in several small towns, my quick answer is no.
Contrary to popular TikTok trends of idolizing the small town/cottagecore aesthetic, many small towns hold discriminatory beliefs against people of color, LGBTQ+ people and other kinds of marginalized groups.
While my hometown is where my family lives and where I work, my experience there is far from the best. Despite a large population of Latinx people living in my town, I still faced an immense amount of discrimination, beginning in elementary school. All the kids in class started calling me "Dora," obviously based on the fact that I was a brown girl like the character, and resembled her solely based on hairstyle. After long days of enduring these idiotic statements from my classmates, I went home and cried about it to my mom.
The microaggressions only got worse in high school. For example, while walking to car pool one afternoon, a guy from one of my classes asked me how it was when I “crossed the border” and if I had any trouble. I can’t even count how many times I’ve been “complimented” on my ability to speak English so well, or questioned about it.
There’s been plenty of microaggressions bolted at me for being a lesbian, as well. Getting glares in the locker room, having to argue for my rights in classes, both women and men feeling threatened by my presence and so on. Even after coming out six years ago, I still don’t feel comfortable living there.
Most recently, my hometown actually made national news for a wedding venue that refused to hold a same-sex couple’s wedding. The venue wrote an Instagram post practically condoning their homophobia through the veil of religion, to which they received so much deserved backlash that they had to deactivate their comments.
I know my experiences are no monolith for minority experience in all towns, but everything in me wanted to get away from this place. While applying for colleges, I wanted to be somewhere that had city life, and coming to Raleigh was a new experience for me. Besides the myriad of cultures that mix in Raleigh, the city life provides me with a new sense of self. I feel I don’t have any harsh expectations to maintain and it is refreshing to not have to worry about microaggressions all the time. Raleigh is not only home to more Latinx individuals and cultural events than my hometown, but there are countless queer spaces that one can enjoy without the fear of persecution.
One thing that shouldn’t receive total blame for my crummy experience is the rural South. Despite Northerners believing that the South is full of rednecks and hicks who are uneducated and openly racist, there are an abundance of rural queer and BIPOC communities that exist and have been disenfranchised. In an article from Insider, Emma Whitman wrote of her experience as a liberal moving to a conservative town in Georgia. To her disbelief, much of the South was surprisingly more diverse and integrated than wealthy liberal areas. This doesn’t absolve either area of systemic racism or xenophobia, but this diversity reduced the number of “openly racist” people and incidents on a singular level.
While downtown Raleigh and NC State’s version of Raleigh differ, I continue to find reassurance in both. I am not claiming NC State or even Raleigh itself as emblems of perfection, but I am so thankful to experience this city life. It is critical that more individuals stop trying to romanticize this small town life. If you are going to talk about small town existence, the conversation can not happen without mentioning the discrimination faced by minorities on the daily.