“Another Appalachia: Coming Up Queer and Indian in a Mountain Place” by Neema Avashia

When I came out to a college friend, I lamented my hesitance to claim the label bisexual.

“Questioning if you’re bi enough is like, peak bi,” she told me.

This conversation replayed over and over in my head as I read Neema Avashia’s Another Appalachia: Coming Up Queer and Indian in a Mountain Place (West Virginia University Press, 2022). For those of us who don’t fit the stereotypes of Appalachia, questioning whether we are Appalachian enough is like, peak Appalachian.

Avashia’s questioning is both astute and beautifully crafted. In essays exploring fraught connections to family, to India, to West Virginia, to Hinduism, and to racist classmates and loving neighbors, she examines identity and belonging, painting complicated people and landscapes with humanity and nuance.

It is a gift to examine specificities of experience in a way that makes them feel universal, and here, Avashia shines. Again and again, I was moved by how the setting she rendered was indeed, another Appalachia than the one I knew. Her intimate relationships with her neighbors on Pamela Circle, her hometown’s enmeshment with the local chemical plant, her terrible experiences with explicit racism and xenophobia—all of these were enlightening, even for someone who grew up about 120 miles away.

One does not need to be from a marginalized community to identify with the longing for home Avashia describes so acutely, however. “Talk to any expat West Virginian” Avashia writes, “and in the wistful way they describe home, you will hear echoes of hiraeth. A wish to return to a moment, a feeling, that none of us have been able to replicate since.”

But as a Jewish queer woman who spent her childhood in West Virginia, I was blown away by the extent to which her stories did resonate. I, too, learned of my faith from my mother rather than any formal religious community. I, too, struggle with hateful social media posts by people I thought accepted me. I, too, am often overwhelmed with love from people who still welcome me with open arms.

In the collection’s final essay, Avashia writes of discovering the poet Frank X Walker and “his community of self-described Affrilachians,” saying, “Walker’s community is not my specific Appalachian community, but his poetry fills my lungs with a new kind of air, makes me walk taller when I wear my West Virginia shirts.”

Likewise, Avashia’s Indolachian community is not my specific community, but her essays too, create space for my identity. Avashia’s book bolsters the growing collection of literature from “other” Appalachias, and this centering of coming up as “other,” of questioning one’s belonging in Appalachia, underscores the experience as not only valid, but as, in many ways, quintessentially Appalachian.

Neema Avashia

Neema Avashia was born and raised in southern West Virginia to parents who immigrated to the United States. She has been a middle school teacher in the Boston Public Schools since 2003. Her essays have appeared in the Bitter Southerner, Catapult, Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere

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