On Texas and the South
|Yours truly in the straw hat and 'Merica glasses|
A few weeks ago, I stumbled across an article on twitter titled “My road trip through Trump country taught me that staying in the liberal bubble has its advantages.” The author Marie Myung-Ok Lee and her family, including her disabled son, live in New York City and took a road trip through the southern states on the way to Los Angeles. And naturally, because she is a writer and teaches writing at Columbia University, she wrote about her trip through “Trump Country” as she calls it.
I am an adult person of colour that lives in the South. I was born, grew up, and was educated all in the state of Texas. My parents are immigrants, came to the US to attend university, and have lived in Texas ever since their late 20s. They’ve both lived in Texas longer than their native country and consider it their home. Both of my parents are also practicing Buddhists, vegetarians, and staunchly conservative. Our family may not all have the same religious or political beliefs, but one thing we do agree on is that we’re Texan through and through. I took issue with Lee’s depiction - and her cursory experience in middle America - and had to share my experience being a minority in the South. Because what is the internet for but responding to other people’s writing?
There was an undercurrent of discomfort and anxiety during Lee’s family trip through the South, whereas I have very seldom ever felt unsafe while living in and traveling through the South. Or New York City for that matter. But maybe the reason is that when you’re accustomed to a place - a city or neighborhood or state - what is unfamiliar is unnerving or even frightening. When you don’t know what to expect and if you’re accustomed to a certain behavior, anything outside of that can put you on the defense.
I am very conscientious that I look different than the vast majority of the population in the South. But because I don’t look the same does not mean I don’t share things in common with them. Lee references knives (of the non-kitchen variety) four separate times in her essay, perhaps perplexed at who would buy them and what they would use them for. I carry a knife; there’s actually one in a pocket of each bag I own. They’re not for protection but rather because it’s extremely handy to have a sharp edge on you - to open boxes, cut through rope, etc (you horse people know what I’m talking about).
Yes, in the South, you’ll see billboards / signs / bumper stickers that proudly declare a certain sort of religious or political beliefs. You may see confederate flags (which I’ve seen all the way up in Michigan). You’ll also see rainbow flags, stick figure families, Hello Kitty faces, and crawling Christian fish symbols with legs.
What Lee may have forgotten to mention is how friendly people are in the South. How they open doors, pull out chairs, say excuse me and please and thank you and goodbye. How some people who are members of the NRA and subscribe to American Rifleman have been hunting, fishing, gardening, and literally living off the land in this country - the parts of America that you’ve never seen before - for generations and are some of the strongest conservationists for the natural lands that I’ve ever met. They reuse, recycle, reduce because it’s how they get by, making things last.
This land o’ mine is America. Not Trump’s America, just another part of America that you may not have seen before. It’s always been there; it isn’t new. NYC is also America. It’s a unique part of America - sure, there are a lot of people who live there but not everyone in the country wants to be a New Yorker or live in a place like NYC.
Maybe what this post is is not a rebuttal but an invitation to others who feel or think like Lee. Come to the South. Meet and talk to the people openly and reserving judgment. I know I, for one, would love to have you and share all of the wonderful things about this place that is my home.