Personal Essay: Whether it’s Urban Appalachia or Southern California, Quality of Life is All Relative

photo by A. MalikRay Garcia moved from San Diego to Ashland, Kentucky, about two years ago. He and his two brothers, Sergio and Ron, own and run a restaurant in town that offers locals a Southern California-Mexican style of cuisine not found in Ashland or, as Ray said he’s discovered, in Kentucky.

On a recent rainy Sunday afternoon, I interviewed him for a magazine article about the restaurant and its influence on Ashland. As a native Ashlander whose parents and sister live there (and probably always will), I leave Lexington and head east 120 miles on Interstate 64 about once a month to visit.

With a population of about 22,000, Ashland isn’t at all as urban as the urban Appalachian cities of Chattanooga, Asheville, Pittsburgh, and others. It is and always has been, however, a Mecca of sorts for the northeast part of Kentucky, with its two malls, city park, and dining options.

Something Ray said to me during our talk stuck in my head. He said he’s noticed that people in Ashland are “down on themselves” and where they live. Young people are eager to leave Ashland for bigger and better places, and some almost apologize to him for Ashland when they learn he’s from a much bigger, more cosmopolitan place.

But after living and working in the Ashland area for almost two years, he doesn’t see it that way. “What’s wrong with this place?” he always asks the naysayers. He said he thinks those in Ashland should feel prouder of where they live.

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