Home in The South: Notes of a Non-Native Daughter

So some U.S. liberals living in blue states who wonder why progressive people might choose to live in the dreaded "Red States." Why don't we leave? Do we want to? Wouldn't our lives be better? And these are not just any old progressives, but smart ones who work for Rachel Maddow.

Two great responses come from kchapmangibbons and the wonderful scATX. I encourage you to read both entries. In particular, they address why these questions and the assumptions behind them get tiresome, fast. I found myself nodding along in many places.

In other places however, I didn't identify, because I'm not from here. But I am still at "home" here.

"Home" is a complicated concept. Many of us grew up in homes where we were loved, but we still found moving out a relief. Others grew up in homes seeped in unhappiness, yet we might have found there were some things we missed when we left. Home is complicated like that. As adults, we try to make homes we can love, but that doesn't make them perfect. For some people, the South is not a place they can ever truly make a home, and that's okay. For myself, though, I'm trying to put down some roots and grow in this Southern soil where I have been planted.

I am not a child of the U.S. South. I grew up in, and was shaped by, the U.S. Midwest and Canadian Maritimes. (Yes, that means my accent sticks out like a sore thumb. Or perhaps a strange thumb-finger hybrid. I dunno). It's not my culture nor my landscape, although there are ways in which I can relate to both. I come from rural places, from generations of farmers and other people accustomed to making their living from the environment. And I like those rural places. I like being outdoors, having a garden, and I love living in a place where that doesn't mark me as a freak, but "just folks."

Like any home, though, I have my complaints about it. Perhaps Definitely I'll never get used to the climate. Culturally, I'm always going to be marked apart by what my boss calls my "Canadian directness" in getting to the point of things. (My directness is bilingual, I guess, with a fondness for curling and Tim Horton's.) I certainly won't ever get used to the particular gendered and racinated ways that patriarchy expresses itself here. But you know that? Elements of patriarchy are everywhere. Let's not even pretend that certain states or nations don't have patriarchal issues.

At core, this is where my job is--my career. I've spent multiple years building relationships with students, alumni, colleagues, and community. I don't drop those connections easily. My colleagues are mostly awesome, and any academic knows that working in a department where people actually get along is worth its weight in gold. And frankly, jobs are hard to come by, even if I wanted to leave. The vicissitudes of the academic market are a matter for another post, but short version: I know people who live in "blue states" who are frankly envious of my location.

I've come to love the funky little corners of my city, where there's music and proper downtown parades and First Fridays and an awesome used bookstore. I also love the historic sites and unique cultures that surround me. If I didn't live here, would I have ever visited the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's planning center? Eaten boiled peanuts? Partied on Beale Street? Seen where the Trail of Tears began? Grown blackeyed peas and cushaw squash in my own garden? Maybe. But doubtful.

I've made friends and gained loved ones. Even family. And I've lost a few, too. I miss my family elsewhere; I wish I were closer to my parents, my niece and nephew, and many other loved ones. But I know if I moved, I would also ache for family here. There are progressives here, too, people working their asses off to make a better world--and by and large, my progressive friends are native Southerners. Southern culture is not my culture, but I understand that it does not axiomatically mean hateful, conservative culture. The same soil that nourishes bigotry also sprouts the seeds of generosity, social justice, and love.

Is it depressing to live in a state where gerrymandering ensures GOP rule? Oh HELL yes. I'm tired of being employed by a state whose dominant political party wants to regulate my uterus, constantly dock my pay, and scorn me when I'm unhappy about it. It's wearying. But you know what else is wearying? Those fellow progressives in blue states questioning why or how I even exist.

Home is complicated. This is my home, if not my native land. And I love my complicated, imperfect home.

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