Whenever my boyfriend and I told people that we were taking a roadtrip to Bakersfield, the answer was invariably… “Why?” I will forego judgement on Bay Area and LA residents’ feelings that their cities are as attractive as they seem to think they are. Yes Bakersfield. Home of the Bakersfield sound, one of the two major strands of Country music, that when the Nashville sound started going commercial, kept the genre raw, grounded in the lives of the men and women who lived and struggled and fought in the underbelly of the American dream. Who carried the hardship of the Dustbowl migrations, who watched their children starve as they struggled to find work, who were beaten by foremen when they worked in the orchards, whose children then became hardened adults, who spent time in jail, who were too torn to make their love last, who did their best anyway.
Yes Bakersfield, the roughened heart of Kern County, a place that so reflected American contradictions as to be both one of the largest oil producers, as well as biggest agricultural providers in the nation. A big difficult mother who gives us oil and oranges, and then stands to be judged by her arrogant urban children.
Yes, Bakersfield, home not just of the mythical American (read: white) working class, oil workers and truckers, but to everything America has become since. One of the largest majority-hispanic cities, the truckers who settle there are increasingly Punjabi, Sikhs driven out of India in the 80s, unable to find jobs in any other industry in the U.S., now form entire neighborhoods of the Central Valley with their blood and road networks.
So to those L.A. urbanites who do not bother to know the heart of their state, a refer them to Buck Owen: “You don’t know me but you don’t like me/ You say you care less how I feel / But how many of you that sit and judge me / have walked the streets of Bakersfield?”