I am a transplanted Yankee who grew up in the South. My parents came South to work for FDR and help Southerners find equity in a country that had denied them for over 100 years. As the child of these parents, I have seen the South change dramatically over the past few decades.
The new South is nothing like the old South.
David is the child of a Southerner and Pola, an immigrant from Russia. David Senior met Pola when he was serving with the US Expeditionary Force in Siberia during WWI. David Jr. grew up in the South, and learned to speak English in small southern towns. His mother Pola used to say, “I’m not Carolina born, or Carolina bred, but when I die, I’ll be Carolina dead.”
David tells me he does not have a Southern Accent. He lived in Estonia when he was younger, in Pennsylvania as an adult and Germany for a while longer, but when he begins to talk about his days at UNC, his drawl comes out. He can’t help it.
After living with him for 30 years, I have a slight Southern accent. I say slight, but to some Northern ears, it is more than slight. Because my parents were Yankees, I thought I sounded like them. I was further convinced of this when I visited my cousins in Wisconsin, and they told me I “didn’t sound Southern.” My accent was and is not very stable. I acquired their Yankee accent almost immediately. My first conquest was to call coke ‘pop.’
Thus, I notice when politicians come South and being speaking in Southern tones and intonations. These accents are “put on” for the locals who think they are idiots for talking down to them. The most recent example, which has played far and wide in the press was Mitt Romney and his ‘cheesy grits.’ But Mitt wasn’t the first. Mr Obama drops his “g’s” every time he comes South, and Mr. Santorum, who is from the Pennsylvania coal fields, to tell his version of reality, has followed suit. Santorum is on a roll. He just told the Puerto Ricans they need to learn English. Obviously he does not know that half of all Puerto Ricans live outside PR. All the Puerto Ricans I know speak English with New York accents (like the kids in West Side Story?). Duh.
The really ridiculous fact is that many Southerners are not as depicted by ignorant Hollywood moguls. Most Southerners these days come from somewhere else. Many ‘newcomers’ have migrated from the North looking for a new life. Many Southerners like me are the children of earlier migrants.
No, the new migrants are not carpetbaggers, whose welcome never was. They are snowbirds, half-backs, business people, and others. The big story in recent years, before the recent economic downturn, had been the flood of new migrants to the South from other states. This great push South began in earnest after WWII with the move of textile factories from the North. And, it has continued with the migration of African-Americans, like Morgan Freeman, returning home to their roots in the South, and migrants from Cuba, Mexico Salvador, and points South. In addition, Indian Americans from India have been migrating here for some time, like the families of Bobby Jindal in Louisiana, and Nikki Hilton in South Carolina. Although Vietnamese and Cambodians were settled all over the US, many have migrated to Louisiana where the combination of French accents, and the Gulf of Mexico made them feel at home.
Actually, the newer trickle of Yankee migrants began moving South with my Mom and her parents, who arrived from Michigan during the Depression to work on the TVA project. My Dad and his pals came South with the CCC. Dad and many other professionals stayed in the South to work for the federal government.
But it wasn’t just professionals like our friend Dr. Chan who grew up on Long Island, moved South, and became a doctor in West Virginia before migrating to northern Virginia, or my dermatologist Dr. Walia, child of Indian immigrants who grew up in New Orléans. Many working people from the North have found their way South. Many migrants from Michigan auto plants have found work in Southern plants in Right to Work States like Tennessee where GM, Toyota and others have built factories.
True, there are plenty of the “original” Southerners in the South, but they are not immune to the influx of migrants from elsewhere. The result has been that the Southern culture that existed even 40 years ago has changed dramatically and will continue to change.
No, the South isn’t what or who you think it is. Times change and so do people. BTW, I never heard of cheesy grits until last week, although I love sweet tea and collard greens. David hadn’t heard of them either and he is a real grits fan. Strange isn’t it, as both of us lived in Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas before we moved north to Virginia. Both of us also lived many other places, including Europe. Gosh we even know Calamari isn’t a desert.
(Above, my new hydrangea, a southern plant from Connecticut.)