Thursday, June 10, 2010

I'm Proud to be from...

Geographic pride is varied and diverse among people I have met, and I'm not immune to it either. I've spoken before on the manner in which so many of us seem inexplicably "attached" to the land. This can be topographically true, with people self-identifying as a "mountain man" or a "beach bum." However, I have found that can be very regionally true as well. While few may take particular pride in being from "the north" (who knows? Perhaps there are some native Minnesotans I haven't met yet that are very proud of it; "Ya betcha!"), my recent experience has been that being from "The South" holds a peculiar air of honor. While my "southern" friends acknowledge some of the less complimentary legacies of the region, there's still a sort of "geographic loyalty" that doesn't allow the critique to go too far before a hearty "hold on there, pard'ner" brings the conversation back to a friendly tone.

I'm the same way. I'm proud to be from northern California (stress on the "northern.") I always (ALWAYS!) sing along with Hank Williams, Jr. (in that part of his song "A Country Boy Can Survive") when he mentions "north California." People from Texas that don't know where Redding is often ask, "Isn't that in northern California... near San Francisco?" My answer is always swift: "NO! Redding is really in northern California. San Francisco is a 4 hour drive away" (stress on the "4 hours"). "They're not in northern California," I clarify. "We are!" Whenever the news discusses some crazy occurrence happening in California, I always assume it's far away from my beloved homeland.

I'm so pathetic... I get all defensive as well. Someone may say, "Go to such and such a place. The lakes there are beautiful," but I'll quickly counter, "maybe, but not as pretty as Whiskeytown or Shasta." A well meaning acquaintance here in Texas will suggest I visit the "mountains" in west Texas, but I quickly correct, "They're not like the MOUNTAINS in northern California." That type of "geographic loyalty" just comes out of one's speech before you've even had the chance to stop and think about what you're saying. I'm sure some must find it rude at times, or at least shake their heads and think: he's illogically loyal to his home region.

Those in "the South" are no worse than I am. How could I expect them to throw their regional loyalties "under the bus" whenever someone not from there brings up historic episodes related "Jim Crow" laws, the Klan or slavery. It's unreasonable to think that people will shed their homeland identity the moment an "outsider" wants to point out a region's "checkered past." In addition, no region is immune to such critiques, so "the South" should not have to endure a disproportionately negative report. I'm sensitive to this because of recent comments offered from those that both are not from "the South," and don't acknowledge their own attachment to "a land" either.

I find that it is very natural to admit a "regional identity," proudly affirming one's homeland and even listing ways that geography has likely shaped you. By contrast, those that have not explored this may unreasonably question another's defense of their homeland. If someone approaches me with attacks about the U.S. acquisition of California from Mexico or the displacement of Indian tribes, I'm likely to interrupt with, "Yeah..yeah. I know about that. But you should hear the great stories of the Gold Rush and Sutter's Mill, and many others that will blow your mind."

I imagine this phenomenon of "regional loyalty" has got to be quite widespread. No doubt such sentiments would arise when conversing with someone imbued with the "wild Alaska spirit," or that was raised in the hills of Tennessee. The Nebraska plains or the Florida beaches much invade the psyche so that someone from there may think of any negative legacies: that's for me to know, but not for you to say. I'm sure the lighthouses of Maine must shape a person just as much as the Colorado Rockies do, and I don't begrudge a New Yorker turning defensive for Lady Liberty anymore than I would the Texan that stands at The Alamo in silence.

There's a way in which people are naturally tied to the land. We're made to work the soil, follow it's seasons and feel it's rhythms. It's not pantheism or a Gaia cult. We're made by the Creator to be in harmony with the creation, and the way the land shapes us should not be surprising. I'm proud to be from northern California, and I glad to meet anyone proud to be from anywhere else too.

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