Not a lot of people give much thought to Birmingham, Alabama. It’s not one of the capitals we had to memorize in fifth grade. It doesn’t make headlines that often and when it does, usually it merits a segment on some Comedy Central show. But Birmingham, like any other city in the world, is home to a fairly substantial number of people, including me.

Coming to Bowdoin College from Birmingham, Alabama, I can guess fairly easily what people do know about my hometown. I’ve started to expect people’s eyes to glaze over as they picture fire hoses and George Wallace blocking the steps of the University of Alabama. I know exactly why people immediately feel uncomfortable or hesitant when I mention the place where I grew up. But Birmingham, Alabama has come a long way since the 1960s and a great number of the population is trying to eradicate the backwards thinking of our past.

I wish I could say people are entirely wrong when they think that the people of my hometown drive big pickup trucks to hunting camps or to tailgate at Alabama football games. I wish I could say that those southerners and others don’t still carry othering beliefs. If I am to be factually correct, those stereotypical southerners do exist. But Birmingham and its population as a whole are so much more than the stereotype.

Victoria Phillips ’19, who yields from Dunnavant Valley just outside of Birmingham (JOB), says, “There are the cultured people who you can find in downtown Birmingham listening to Birmingham Mountain Radio and NPR. They are well-rounded individuals. They’re very accepting and usually they are very young.”

That young, cultured population very much represents where Birmingham is going. The city itself is fostering the growth of an alternative to the southern brand of conservative prep. These are the people with Bernie Sanders stickers on their cars, who want to usher an influx of new ideas into our community.

These same people encourage a culture in Birmingham beyond football or hunting or any other Southern stereotype. In fact, Birmingham is home to a rapidly growing music culture that fosters a thriving environment for local bands and a widespread appreciation for alternative and Americana music that’s become fairly commonplace in the south.

However, those aren’t the only type of people of Birmingham, just as the stereotype isn’t our entirety either. Part of the beauty of Birmingham is the mixing of the traditions and culture of the south with new beliefs and ideas.

“You can find the people like my group of friends who are very mish-mashed together, very different ideas and opinions, but a lot of erosion of thought,” said Victoria. “There isn’t that one stigma, ‘This is the way to be in Alabama, this is the way things aren’t’. There’s a lot of different kinds of people.”

This mix of cultures is exemplified by the cuisine of our city. A new foodie culture has grown out of a farm-to-table cooking movement in our agriculturally rich state. The local food movement of this young population has mixed with a tradition of good ol’ southern-style cooking in a way that truly exemplifies how well new ideas can find a home in Birmingham.

In my time here, I’ve found that Birmingham can be a lot like Bowdoin. Both Birmingham and Bowdoin represent a mix of all of the best qualities of the past and the future. Growing up in the south is just like growing up anywhere in that there are pieces of your world that are foreign to any other place. But those differences, whether they are part of the benefits or the drawbacks of the place, are why each corner of the earth has its own identity.

With every problem my hometown faces, there are also triumphs. There is nothing more powerful than to be able to see the good and the bad in a place and a population—it truly indicates the way that every place and person work, with their own individual makeup and their own winding, puzzling path.

Each person’s hometown and each individual’s life experience shape the place in which they live as much as those places are shaping them. Hopefully in this column, as I meet with people from a myriad of places, I can begin to understand each place’s and person’s individual identity and how they affect and are affected by place.                  

Victoria said of our hometown, “I feel really proud of the way I grew up. But, I think that you as an individual have to make the decision: ‘Am I going to think like everyone else or am I going to have my own identity even if it’s not with the mass culture?’”