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.


  1. "There was an undercurrent of discomfort and anxiety during Lee’s family trip" I think that's really key. When you're expecting to feel uncomfortable and unsafe and discriminated against, you will. I love the South--one of my favorite memories from my honeymoon is this elderly lady who Angel asked for restaurant recommendations during our honeymoon in KY (I used to live there, so I took him back to my hometown) and she spent half an hour with him and calling him honey and I think she was pretty much in love by the time we'd picked out a restaurant. :) My main experience of Texas is with Angel's family, and yes, his parents are immigrants with strongly accented English--and I've never seen anything other than that friendly culture of the South when we're out exploring. It's true, because of my own biases I think I'd feel less safe or less likely to meet a friendly stranger who would take the time to offer me directions or help if I were in New York than in Texas or Kentucky, or even Michigan. I'm from a farm family, and there are sometimes a good bit of similarities between my family and the southerners I know... :)

  2. Thank you so much for writing this post! I completely agree with your thoughts! I'm half Japanese and half African-American...and I have lived in Texas for quite a few years now. In my experience, I have found Texas to be one of the friendliest places I've ever lived and my travels throughout the South have almost always been a welcoming and comfortable experience. So it always bothers me when people jump to conclusions about places like the South just because it may be unfamiliar to them.


  3. Thank you for this enlightening post, Rooth. Not gonna lie...as someone who hasn't traveled extensively in the US (have only been to LA and Buffalo, NY) and a Democrat supporter (as much as a Canadian can be:P), I probably would've felt the same way as the author in the beginning of the trip:( I would've probably never think of venturing out of the urban places like Austin. Thank you for the reminder that generalization is never a good thing.

  4. I like the South. I've been to Tennessee, Texas, and Louisiana thus far. You've got some of the most genuinely friendly people in the WORLD. I won't lie, first time I saw a billboard for God, it did startle me :) Most of my hatred goes toward that confederate flag, but as you mentioned, that can be found all over.

    I'm a little mad that article was put out right now, when this country does not need it. We ALREADY KNOW all the ways we're divided.

    When I recently went to Newcastle, England I ran into an older man from North Carolina. We voted differently during the election, but it's interesting how we were able to have a civil, even humorous convo about politics, guns, etc. I concur with your invite for more people to come to South. I think both sides could use some face to face interaction.

    Oh, and coming from someone who needs to leave NYC right away, I find that New Yorkers can be just as rigid and set in their ways as they claim the South to be. haha.

  5. I've always wanted to roam the woods of Louisiana...a scary type of southern.
    My family is from Kentucky. Hillbillys for the win! Haha.

  6. Heck, I would take issue with Lee’s depiction, too, Rooth.

  7. We could do with a few more friendly people in the town I live. There tends to be a lot of wealthy older people around here - who are aloof, rude, and expect everybody else to make way for them.

  8. I'm familiar with the writer but didn't read her piece. For me, based on my own experience, I do have to admit that I am scared to go to places in fear that I will be judged. It's crazy because I haven't felt this way until a few years ago. I almost wrote a blog post about it. People can throw it back at me for pre-judging before I experience the people and the place but every experience leading up to where I am now causes this anxiety.. this fear. I never felt this way growing up..My best friend was white and I always did things with her family, visiting rural America, fairs in Pennsylvania, upstate New York - places where I hardly saw any Asian Americans. But I never felt out of place because I was too young and I didn't know the world yet. As a grown up though, there are certain times where I have felt wholly unwelcomed because of the way I look - perhaps not when I was living in Queens but ever since coming to Virginia it makes it hard for me to go to places that are out of the Northern VA/Washington DC metropolitan area without wondering if my day will be ruined because someone is going to say something or act a certain way to piss me off because they haven't seen an Asian person before. Sometimes it feels like I'm back being in elementary school and people look at me and ask me, "Do you speak English??" And I think.. really?? After 30 somethings years in America, I still have to go through this? I felt this way with Florida. I had the worst time there with the blatant rudeness that was everywhere. It was so different when I was in Maui. There are times when I did meet friendly people and unfortunately sometimes they feel more rare than common. But I also don't agree with sweeping generalizations either. Thanks for sharing this.

  9. I'm not a POC so I can't speak to that aspect, but I do live in a liberal bubble. I think if you go into a place with a hard view on how people will be, that's what you'll find. I've always had a nice enough time in the south, with people randomly starting conversations with me like we were old friends in New Orleans and Kansas. The boiled p'nut stands in the middle of nowhere FL were always fun to stumble upon and visit. The only thing that I've encountered that was slightly WTFish was when someone in Colorado told me I didn't look like a pilgrim, but that was more confusing and funny that anyone would ever think of that than anything else.

    I think if you go places with an open mind you're more able to see the good parts of places. I've met people who went out of their way to be super nice in Quebec City {someone ran out of the store we were in to give us candies} and NYC which are both places with a reputation for rudeness. If I had been looking for terrible people in both of these places, I'm sure I could have found that and taken that to be my main experience as well.


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