On a trip I took earlier this summer, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit New York City. I had never been there before, and a close personal friend offered to show me around. Leading up to the trip, he tried to describe the city to me as a “concrete jungle” and “the big apple,” but these phrases hardly do the city justice.
New York was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. It was loud, it was crowded, and it moved at a million miles a minute. The Empire State Building, Freedom Tower, Rockefeller Center — all testaments to the accomplishments of the human race — hover above the city like sentinels seen from miles away. The people from all walks of life sprint through the streets and bump into you, often without even noticing. It was a marvel to behold.
While New York is a fascinating place to visit for a few days, I could never live there. A city that never sleeps makes a soul grow tired, and it made me happy to return to my home in the Heart of Dixie.
I’m writing in defense of my home state, jokes about which have always been low-hanging fruit for comedians and so-called local political “commentators” that seem to get a rise out of kicking people they perceive as inferior. Most recently, NBC ranked Alabama the worst state to live in, adding on to the pile of negative press. As a non-native Alabamian, however, I defend it from a unique perspective, as my family has chosen to live here not as a consequence of birth but by choice.
My family moved to Alabama shortly after I turned 13. Needless to say, as a young boy who had never lived anywhere outside of South Florida, I was not exactly pleased with the prospect. The first image that popped into my head was akin to the caricature of a hillbilly living off the grid and jamming to the tune of “Dueling Banjos.” I knew I was in for a culture shock, and it was a culture that I had been conditioned to think of as regressive and intolerant.
My family and I certainly experienced culture shock, but in a way that we failed to anticipate. Locals welcomed us with the utmost southern hospitality, always responded with a polite “yes, sir,” or “no, sir,” and treated us like family. Although we certainly have more land between my neighbors now than I did when I grew up, there is certainly less distance.
Alabama unfairly gets a bad rap, but then again I’m told that life is not fair. But the people in Alabama are amongst the kindest, most giving, and most hardworking of any that I’ve met across this great country. It’s a heck of a place to live, and that’s the God’s honest truth.
Alabama is fourth in the nation in cost of living, according to U.S. News and World Report, but the state’s critics won’t tell you that. Alabama ranks in the top half for housing affordability, but the critics won’t tell you that. The state also ranks highly in pre-K quality, infrastructure, renewable energy usage, and several other things, but you’ll never hear about any of those positive numbers because they don’t make for a good punchline.
Not to beat a dead horse, but Alabama’s culture is just hard to beat, and we often take it for granted. When it comes to sports, it’s hard to find a more compelling matchup any year than the Iron Bowl. Between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers, the state has sent a representative to compete for the national championship every year since 2009.
Also, how quickly we forget the role that Alabama played in the formulation of some of the country’s biggest musical hits. Aside from native legends like Hank Williams, Sr., countless stars have recorded albums at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, with the Swampers (they’ve been known to pick a song or two).
And let’s not forget the element that makes Alabama such a special place: its faith. A 2016 Pew Research Poll found that Alabama is the most religious state in the union. A similar study from Gallup in 2015 found that Alabama ranked third in frequent church attendance, with 47 percent of respondents stating they attend church weekly.
During my time in the Yellowhammer State, I have lived a safe, productive life, earned two degrees from a world-class University, met countless friends, and found community. Because of the culture, low cost of living, and low taxes I plan to live here for a long, long time.
This does not mean that I believe Alabama is perfect. It is not. And anyone who tells you that their home is immaculate lives in a fool’s paradise. Alabama can do a lot to move forward. But those who are the state’s staunchest critics believe that government — not everyday people — can do this, and they are dead wrong.
Alabama’s state politics have frequently been engulfed by scandal, corruption, and special interests that distract from positive changes necessary to unleash the freedom and prosperity needed to make Alabama better. If they were honest, Alabama’s critics would say that they’d rather us be more like NYC and Chicago — cities rife with crime and murder despite their strict anti-gun policies — than the way we are. When critics want to cede more power to those in Montgomery to accomplish their progressive goals, I say “No, thank you.”
In a time of alleged increasing tolerance, those that would like to be left in peace to their traditional way of life are often told they are not accepted and that they must get with the times. But what is being forwarded by today’s left is not actually tolerance, but forced conformity to their new standard of “social justice.”
All that is to say that I really don’t care much what those people think about Alabama. If they want to spend their lives trying to change people that do not want to change, that’s their prerogative. So bring on the barbecue and the college football. Bring on the “Yes ma’am,” and the Sunday morning service. Bring on the lake days and the hunting season. You can keep your skyscrapers; I’ll keep my Alabama.
Jordan LaPorta is an Alabama resident and a law student at the University of Alabama. He holds a B.A. in History and Political Science from UA and graduated from Hoover High School in 2013. He has written news articles and commentary for Yellowhammer News since 2015.