The glories and failures of the South
Yet I revel in it all the same
Magnolia trees, open porches, potato salad and deviled eggs, shag dancing, and the glorious chimes of church bells ringing and a church choir singing. These are some of the indelible images that I, and most others, associate with the South.
I love it here, I always tell myself whenever I am homesick or am traveling.
Still, it is challenging for me to forget the ignorance and disdain most associate with this region of the country–for good reason. Yet, I revel in the glory of this place despite its failures.
I credit my roots here for molding me into a unique individual. My parents’ Asian culture interspersed with my American Southern background has taught me a number of lessons–good and bad–that I carry with me, reminding me that no matter where I end up, I can always trace some of the best parts of myself to this glorious yet imperfect region of the world.
Let’s talk about some of the best the South has to offer, shall we?
Kindness–the golden rule
I have never doubted the kindness of strangers here. Anyone growing up in the South understands that manners are expected, respect is mandatory and love for others and God is everything.
When I attended college in N.C., I met a very devout Baptist couple whose commitment to their marriage and to God superseded everything else in life, teaching me where real happiness really lies. While I have already lost three grandparents, I gained two more thanks to this couple. (She also makes the best deviled eggs and coconut cake!)
There are moments where I got tired of wearing dresses or Jack Rodgers sandals to football tailgates, church, or social events, but if there is one thing that helps me the most with confidence, it’s this: “When you look your best, you feel your best.”
And it’s the south I have to thank for that.
Uncle Lou’s Fried Chicken, Gus’s Fried Chicken, Corky’s BBQ…the list goes on and on with some of the South’s finest and most classic staples.
The Humility of Country Music
Living three hours away from Nashville has its perks. Unlike most of my friends or relatives from the North or West in the U.S., I love the simplicity and narrative storytelling devices used in country music. Whether it’s Dolly crooning “Jolene,” or Martina McBride lamenting the repercussions of dealing with an abusive marriage in “Independence Day,” country is one of those rare genres that knows how to pack a lot of action into three to four minutes.
An appreciation for life
Compared to the hustle and bustle of cities like New York or San Francisco, one thing I’ve noticed about certain places in the South is a beautiful, simple appreciation for life. There is more to this life than crowded streets or dirty transportation systems. Here, there is a quiet appreciation for simplicity that I find is rare compared to the rest of the world.
And now, for the downsides . . .
Prejudices–Past and Present
To me, it’s ironic that a society taught to be respectful and well-mannered to each other also breeds a culture of prejudices and divisive attitudes.
Truth be told, what cripples these legendary cities is a history we can never forget. For me, it was Selma and Memphis.
Who could forget “Bloody Sunday,” a violent and unforgettable march from Selma to Montgomery during the Civil Rights Movement?
Or the sanitation workers’ strike and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. that left a “black eye” on the city of Memphis and changed the course of its progression into the future forever?
We can never forget history, yet we can never recover from it either. The lack of educational opportunities and poverty is as prevalent as ever in some of these places I love so dearly.
Economic Disparities and Educational Inequities
When U.S. News compiled a rankings list of the top states’ public education systems, Alabama, North Carolina and Tennessee were ranked consecutively: 37th, 38th and 39th.
In North Carolina, teacher pay has plummeted and services to disabled children are scrapped. Lawmakers even proposed ending extra pay for educators with masters degrees. Essentially, once a beacon and trailblazer in education, North Carolina has followed suit with some of its neighbors.
In essence, this country has always been plagued with a system of discrimination and socioeconomic disparities, being undeniably prevalent in the South.
As with anything, I take the best lessons and learn from the worst mistakes of my home as I venture off into the distance to close these disparities. I use my multidimensional experiences as an Asian-American and self-identified Southern girl to make others aware of all our glories–and our failures.
Maybe we all should.