Posted by: jasminestanley | November 27, 2011

“Are you from Jacksonville?”

“Are you from Jacksonville?”

It’s such a simple question, yet almost every single person from the ages of 18 to 25 seem to automatically cringe when we are asked it.

For some of us the answer is a simple yes. Yes, we were born here and yes, we are still here for college.

For others it’s a bit more complicated and emotionally heavy.Yes, we were born here and yes, we are still here for college BUT WE DIDN’T WANT TO BE/ will move as soon as we graduate.

Then there’s those who like me have an even more complicated answer. No, I was not born here. Yes, I started school here. Then I left. Then I had to come back. No, I did not want to come back. Yes, I graduated from high school here. Yes, I decided to stay for college. No, I plan to move after graduation.

That has been my answer for a few years now, said rather automatically and as monotone as possible.

It wasn’t until I was a student in Dr. Closmann’s Environmental Oral History class that I really started to think about how beginning my life in Jacksonville and out of serendipity coming back to and staying here for college shaped who I was and what identities I was proud of. We learned about Southern environmental history, taking into account the diversity of the South’s population: Native Americans, Europeans, and Africans. We examined how these cultural ideas about land use shaped environmental policy in the South.

But the topic of having pride of being a Southerner wasn’t raised until I participated in an oral history interview with Ron Littlepage, an editorial columnist of the Florida Times-Union who is also an advocate for the environment. He asked me that question and made me really break down and analyze my knee-jerk reactions to it.

How exactly does one qualify themselves as a Southerner, if they weren’t born here, but one of their parents was raised in the South? Do you count as a Southerner through blood, language, food customs, or the years that you have actually lived in a place? Especially if you were born/also lived in the North, are you still considered “too Yankee”?

For people who grew up here, what is behind your knee jerk? Do you equivalent Jacksonville or the South with the idea of “the redneck”, the unsophisticated/racist/ economically poor stereotype? Are you reluctance to be placed into the same Southerner category as those so called Sons of the Confederacy or the Southern Belles?

Jacksonville as a physical and cultural place is a contradiction. On one hand, it is the largest metro area in the country, yet it operates as a small town. We just voted in an African-American mayor, yet in certain areas racial politics still feel the same. We are known for our environment to outside tourists, yet locals are ignorant of their own natural riches.We know the dangers that face our city, but we don’t try to change our habits.

What can we do to make the knee jerk less and the heart beat proud enough to proclaim ourselves as Southerners from Jacksonville, FL? What can we do to feel pride for where we live and where we come from?

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