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What Happens When A Liberal Family Moves to Tennessee

Updated: Dec 13, 2021 10:27
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Blue Woman, Red State.

This is part of our Blue Woman in a Red State column


“You don’t talk about politics here, you just keep them close to you,” a woman explains to me. My house is still a mess, and we are unpacking in this strange, new land dubbed “The South”. We just spent our summer at home in California, where people had parties to celebrate Ruth Bader Ginsberg and where people threw catered get togethers so we could write postcards to our local congresspeople. Or had phone banks at their houses to call our representatives. Now, a female, first-generation immigrant like myself, is saying we should keep things close to our chest.

“What happens if I say what I think?” I ask.

“Oh, they’ll talk about you behind your back and give you a lot of  ‘bless your hearts,’” she says.

“That’s all?” I ask. I will have to admit, my first thought was that they’d burn crosses and scarecrows in the likeness of Barack Obama as repercussions for being brown and different.

“And religion,” she goes on, “everyone is Christian.”

I don’t know if she is saying that because she sees me unwrapping animal skulls and putting them on my shelf.

“You keep that close to your chest too,” she persists. This lady is Puerto Rican, so like me, she’s also a brown woman navigating this strange new world.

So I say, “I know, can’t swing a dead cat,” (holding up a cat skull) “without hitting a Baptist church around here.”

She looked disapproving, worried about me, or about to puke. I can tell a lot about people if they are looking at our dead animal collection.

“What if I am Buddhist?” I asked her. And she was really contemplating this.

“Just don’t say,” she said.

Chattanooga, Tennessee is nestled along the Tennessee river, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. If you ask 50 somethings and older they will mention the Chattanooga Choo-Choo song. Which I only heard on youtube after it was mentioned EVERY time I said where we had moved to.

My new house, that I pay a mortgage of $1400 a month for, is new construction, some people might call it a mini McMansion. It is on a small plot of land along the Trail of Tears. Yes, the Trail of Tears. There’s also a Walmart and a Red Lobster. Because of the large boom of people moving here, a new mall with a Target and a Books A Million had just been built.

But why are we chugging along in Eastern Tennessee? As a liberal Californian, to be able to live in an echo chamber of my thoughts – whilst living off our parents, was no longer for us. California was excruciatingly expensive. Literally painful. I was tired of working two, sometimes three jobs, while my husband made the most between us, and still living at home because it was simply untenable to purchase a house. We didn’t want a mansion – we just didn’t want to pay rent as 40-year-old adults anymore. Since we aren’t millionaires, and the pandemic allowed this new wave of high-speed internet work from home life, we were able to pack up our things and move. The weather here is great — California has earthquakes and Tennessee has seasons and tornadoes. It’s not too cold (average is 30’s in the winter and high 80’s in the summer and humid.)

I have a 13 and 14 year old. And education here is pretty good if you can navigate an occasional sexist, and homophobic teacher (usually, the same guy.)  Every student gets a brand new Macbook. Textbooks are barely used in class anymore, and this education is paid for by tax dollars. Of course, in a small town – football games are a town event.

We are in the middle of a great migration where people from liberal cities are moving to historically conservative places, and bringing their politics with them.

I joined the Bradley County Democrats and we get together and talk about Harry Potter and making buttons for a local Council Woman who wants to put a Planned Parenthood around the Chattanooga area. We also, trade recipes, and the older white people tell me how to navigate the South as a newcomer.

Something that warms my heart though, political leanings aside, is that people here generally are happy to get something new. A new restaurant (which we are in desperate need of right now) a new movie theatre and an Old Navy. But what they don’t know, since I am keeping my political leanings to myself for the time being, is that I am putting rather liberal ideology into people’s lives without them knowing.

Who knows? As I am socially, I am in the middle of liberalism. I have figured out is that conservative views and liberal ones eventually cross each other. But that is for another time my dear Padawans.

Socially, Liberals don’t want to be told who to fuck, and Conservatives don’t like to be told what they can own. Overall, the spirit of America is that no one tells us what to do – even each other. I know, I know – it’s much more complex than that. But this is basically it.

We are about three years into this boom in Chattanooga. We are not the pioneers. People are saying the ‘noog’ is going to be the next Austin, that great respite in Texas where the food is good, and people are totally cool. Families from California, Seattle, New York City and Chicago are moving South for a simpler, less expensive life and hopefully more states will be purple in the coming years.

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M Keith

M Keith

She/Her
Hooman, Asian-American, Nerd, Mother and lover of all things macabre. I am a Californian first, a Philadelphian once and now a Southerner.

11 Comments

  1. SicilianSage
    December 3, 2021 at 5:19 pm — Reply

    Just to be clear: you left your ridiculously expensive liberal state and want to make your affordable conservative state more like the place you left?

    • M Keith
      December 9, 2021 at 6:02 pm — Reply

      To clarify, I grew up and lived in San Diego up until 5 years ago. I moved to Philadelphia, but that turned out to be awful. High crime rates, negative, racist people – but GREAT hoagies. We spend summers in Southern California with my family. Yes, I want to help make the South more diverse and tolerant, by example. I don’t have to do much because a majority of the people are super cool. There’s always a bunch of people doing the same thing. All, while still keeping it affordable. I also noticed, compared to Philadelphia, which is a generally liberal city, there are less racists here. It can only grow for the better.

  2. December 6, 2021 at 6:30 pm — Reply

    I grew up in western NC where Chatanooga was a progressive big town because of the outdoor sports. I can tell you that keeping your mind entertained will take traveling. Cooking new cool things will need to happen in your kitchen from NY times recipes and soon you’ll connect with a good number of locals with your spirit that grew up listening to DC hardcore and Berkley post punk and know all the nuances of reggae because just because what else is there to do? And that space is freedom and cool. Enjoy the new found time. Forget politics. People are nice and kind there. The gossip ( while everyone will know your business and have an opinion ) is mellow compared to here. Yes I move to San Fran via Boulder and Seattle and rent is painful and I still eat NY times recipes because its too dang expensive to keep trying things. The driveto the BIG ATL is close. Nashville is the Austin and Chatanooga is closer to Phishtown. Enjoy your time!

    • M Keith
      December 9, 2021 at 6:07 pm — Reply

      Every time I go to Atlanta, I curse the traffic because it is literally worse than LA now. But, yes, people are nice and kind, and honestly, there are restaurants sprouting up all over and it’s booming. There’s quite a number of escape rooms, and all the hiking and river and lake activities we haven’t tried yet. I am glad we are getting in while everything is booming. We travel a lot anyway, and even more so now that we have disposable income.

  3. Mary McGarvey
    December 9, 2021 at 2:08 pm — Reply

    DONt southerners ask you your parents’ nationality? I think that would be a bigger factor fitting in there than any politics you mention.
    As for many Intolerant places, i can testify from dealing with American and European tourists, the majority being conservative:
    I was their tourguide. They mentioned that they noticed that they could not easily express an opinion in California and especially in the Bay Area, without disapproval, frowns or disparaging remarks. SO now you can see the flip side. Conform or be quiet. A lot like USSR!

    • M Keith
      December 9, 2021 at 5:54 pm — Reply

      No one has asked me my nationality. People are generally, super polite here. Also, there are Asians and LatinX. It’s a huge pet-peeve for me because my nationality is American, and my cultural back ground is Filipino. I was asked more racist questions in Philadelphia by Black and White People than I have in Tennessee.

  4. tsyganka
    December 9, 2021 at 5:11 pm — Reply

    I’ve lived in Tennessee for over 50 years of my life (now pushing 80) – first Nashville, then Memphis; had a few visits to Chattanooga, Knoxville, Mark Twain Park (Jamestown, TN), and beautiful places whose names I don’t remember in the mountains; camped beside a couple of rivers and briefly went spelunking. Tennessee’s landscape is tremendously beautiful in many places.

    But as for politics — Memphis (so far as I know) is the only more-or-less solidly liberal (sometimes even leftist) city in Tennessee. Hence, the governor and right-wing legislators in Nashville beat up on Memphis as if it were a red-headed step-child. So far, Memphis has stood up under the constant attacks, including some nasty gerrymandering that imposed another right-wing ‘representative’ on us.

    My visits to Chattanooga were in the 1960s. I remember it as a lovely place that had thriving folk music and instrument-building events and enterprises that attracted much tourism. I had no idea of the people’s political opinions; they weren’t mentioned.

    I remember Nashville as a dirty and gossipy city. I lived for a while in a coal-heated house and had to wash my hair 2-3 times a week. But the music industry, parks, and night life were enjoyable.

    In Knoxville, I was invited to cheat on my university’s travel and meal allowance. I didn’t.

    Anyhooooo: I wish Ms. Keith a joyful life in the South. More folks of the liberal or leftist persuasion should move to the South and shove right-wing politics out the door. Welcome home, Ms. Keith!

    • M Keith
      December 9, 2021 at 5:56 pm — Reply

      I love Chattanooga, there are enough educated and weird people, but there are still country folk, who I love. There are nosy, gossipy Southern Women but they’re kind and helpful and genuinely nice.

  5. Tracia Kraemer
    December 18, 2021 at 10:13 pm — Reply

    I love almost everything about chattanooga and the area. But after being here 1.5 years, I have to admit that I’m having a hard time finding my tribe. I think its hard to find friends in your 50’s in general, but harder as a bright blue sprinkle in a red state. I won’t give up. I only need a couple of gfs for lunches and occasional shopping. Not impossible.

    • Eva
      May 29, 2022 at 12:36 pm — Reply

      Don’t california and new york my south. Liberals bring destruction, political correctness, big government, and mental disease.

  6. Disappointed
    March 22, 2022 at 7:19 am — Reply

    Why are liberals moving to conservative areas after destroying your own cities and bringing your liberal worldview with you. Your liberal worldview is what messed up where you were living in the first place. Why do you have to move to a better area to screw that up too? This is why we can’t have nice things. Living red while voting blue? Blind!

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