What Happens When A Liberal Family Moves to Tennessee
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.