I have lived and visited many different places in the United States. As I think back, though, I realize that I surrounded myself in each of those places with a limited group of people. There were our neighbors, the people that I worked with, the people my wife worked with and sometimes a small group of friends.
So I guess maybe I did not get to know how diverse each place was....
Here in Mississippi however.....
People from the north smile when they here a 'southerner' speak. There is that nice little drawl with the occasional ya'll. I remember coming to Mississippi the very first time, house hunting. We were staying in a hotel, and I was searching the channels on the TV for the local news. I was anxious to hear 'southern'. I was most dismayed to find that most of the news anchors speak 'northern'. I did finally find an old guy on the PBS channel talking about Mississippi state parks, with that deep southern drawl. I watched him for an hour wondering if I was ever going to sound like that.
We found our house. Nice little neighborhood, a subdivision.... which is the first time I had lived in a subdivision. Our neighbors were a mix, from Illinois, Mississippi, Texas. Most all of us spoke 'northern' but every one of us would ad ya'll in whenever we could, just to sound a little less out of place.
By the time we moved to Alabama, we could not discern a southern accent anymore. There were other accents however. My wife worked with a guy from Louisiana, big difference in the way they speak.
Then we came back to Mississippi and moved, once again into a small gated subdivision full of 'diverse' people. There's the Filipinos up the street, the Chinese couple who hesitantly speak English, but claim to have come from Texas. The couple from India, the family from Minnesota,
and a few odd mixed others. And we continued to live our lives in our 'diverse' community.
Then I went to work....
Not only did I go to work, but I went to work driving a school bus. School bus drivers are typically old. There are about 150 drivers working at our company a dozen are white, there are probably 5 or 6 my age or younger, and the rest are old black men and women who really don't care if you understand what they are saying or not.
I have heard of the Mississippi Delta (I remember the song Delta Dawn from my youth), I even visited the Delta (reminded me of eastern Montana, around Sidney, mostly flat, and very agricultural). I knew a few people from the Delta, mostly white business people that cared greatly if you can understand them or not. But I had not met the soul of the state.
It is the birthplace of many genres of American music, it is rich in agricultural history, it is written about, sung about, and told about. But the people of the Delta are not a proud group. They are humble and reclusive.
My friend John who showed me around some parts of the Delta last year, explained how it is in the Delta. It reminded me of small town Montana. Not the Livingston or Bozeman type small town, but Clyde Park, Ringling, and many other very small towns. The people know each other in a very intimate way. They are in each others business, because it affects each of them so much. Its a hard group to join, and once in, it does not matter where you go, you are part of the family.
So it is with these people I work with now. There are a few who I know, and there are more who are allowing me in, that don't quiet down when I walk up to their group. There are a lot of differences that I need to overcome. Age, most of these guys are old enough to be my parents. Race, I have always considered myself an innocent when it comes to race and the more I live in the south, the more I realize this is true, luckily my innocence shines through and people of all races down here try to teach me how I should act (and I pretend to learn).
The biggest however is Language. It isn't that there is a more noticeable southern drawl, maybe there is and I just don't notice it. There is a 'mumbling' characteristic which I know affects me more and more as I live here... (I attribute it to the heat/humidity; it frys the brain)
But primarily its just the words and the phrases they use.
So last week I was filling up the bus, long story short, I had to fill up a second bus so it was my second time in 2 days being at the station. Another driver approached me:
R: Hay, yow feel evera day?
Me: No, different bus, remember mine broke.
R: Oh, ya, ya, ya.... Thisun ...mumble....mumble....mumble....
R: Ya empty?
Me: Don't know
R: Mumble mumble mumble
R: Yow hand broke?
Me: (looking at my hands) I don't think so
R: Then why ya feelin
Me: Cuz I don know how much I got
R: Why? Dun yow hand work?
R: Yow hand, yow Fuel Hand
At which time I understand.... Fuel Hand is the fuel gauge, and no I didn't trust the fuel gauge which turned out to be fairly accurate after all. Probably the only bus that the fuel hand works on though....
So now, after nearly 9 years in this place I am just starting to break out of the 'diverse' subdivision and learn more about the soul of Mississippi. Who knows maybe I'll even learn how to Mash a Button!