When I first moved back to Ypsi, Linette and I made some shirts that said “Buy Indie in Ypsi.” We thought that we were doing a good thing – encouraging people to support the locally owned, independent stores in their community – but some folks didn’t see it that way. We received complaints from a vocal minority, telling us that, by using the term “Ypsi,” we were hurting this community that we’d moved back to be a part of. Apparently, by not using all of the letters in the formal name, we were somehow denigrating the entire community, and moving the City backward. I can’t recall how, if at all, I replied, but, if I did, it’s likely that I used words like “shortsighted” and “ridiculous.” Well, it looks like we’re finding ourselves in another one of those teachable moments here in Ypsi.
Apparently, this time, it’s Erik Dotzauer of the Depot Town CDC that’s the offender…. Yup – it seems as though he’s kicked the “Ypsitucky” hornets’ nest pretty hard.
I received a note from a community leader not too long ago, telling me of Erik’s plan to promote an “Ypsitucky Bluegrass Festival,” and asking me to send a letter of complaint to the City Council, telling them that I objected. Instead, I sent a note back to the man who had contacted me, saying that, as a person from Kentucky, I didn’t find the association all that objectionable.
Apparently, however, some well-intentioned folks in the community feel otherwise. Some, it would seem, think that this is going to send Ypsi into a tailspin from which it can’t recover… To listen to them, you’d think that it wasn’t the prostitution, or the crime, but the word “Ypsitucky” that’s keeping good, honest, hardworking people from our community. (Believe me when I tell you, having talked with a number of people in Ann Arbor about why they don’t visit Ypsi, it has absolutely nothing to do with their fear of confronting a barefoot person in overalls, playing a fiddle.)
So, long story short, the City has called a special meeting of the Ypsi Human Relations Commission for May 18, 2009 to discuss it. (The meeting is to be held at City Council Chambers, located at One South Huron Street, at 7:30 PM.) I’ll have to go check my notes, but I don’t think this commission was even called together when an unarmed David Ware was shot in the back and killed while fleeing from undercover police during a drug bust a few years back. So that should give you some idea as to the overwhelming magnitude of this issue.
Those of you who have been spending time here on the site for a while might remember that I got swept up into the Ypsitucky mess myself some time ago, when I came to the defense of Zingerman’s for using the term to promote a Harriette Arnow tribue dinner celebrating the Appalachian heritage that many of us here share. Well, as you may recall, holy hell broke loose. Someone even went so far as to suggest that it was a hurtful term because Kentuckians were kidnapped and brought here against their will in the 1940s to work in the factories of Ypsilanti. (As you might recall, this particular city leader claimed to have heard personal accounts, but, when asked for details, could never provide them.)
So, what’s my point?
My point is that, even if the word Ypsitucky was used as a pejorative decades ago by people outside of Ypsilanti, it doesn’t have that meaning today. And, even if it did, who’s to say that we can’t embrace the term and transform it in the process? Maybe my judgment is clouded, as my roots are in the Bluegrass State, but, in an era when so much around us seems fake and manufactured, I like that our beloved city has even a tenuous claim to an authentic American culture of some kind. Granted, it’s not sophisticated, but it’s real, and I think that resonates with people.
So, I know there are lots of people out there encouraging folks to complain, and I might be the only person other than Erik on the other side of the fence, but I’d like to ask you to really give it some thought before you do. The term, in and of itself, isn’t bad. The term is what we make it. When I hear it, my mind doesn’t conjure up images of Ann Arbor snobs laughing over glasses of merlot and pointing to the east. Instead, I’m reminded of the really wonderful people from Kentucky who I used to meet on Saturday mornings at the old Freighthouse, in front of the wood stove, listening to Ken and his friends play their banjos. And, I don’t see any reason why others can’t be encouraged to develop similar positive associations of their own. It’s for that reason I think that the Ypsilanti Bluegrass Festival might be a very good thing indeed.