Brooklyn comes to Dixie

Aug 20

My name is Peter M. Ristuccia, and believe it or not, I’m as Southern as kudzu and college football. I was born here in the South, at Athens General Hospital.

I’m a Southerner. Or am I? It would seem that, my name alone would preclude me from making any claim to Dixie. All my life, I’ve watched (or, perhaps, heard) people trip over the name. I’ve had to stop and explain what it is, where it came from, and, of course, how to pronounce it. I had to break it down into syllables and say it slowly, with emphasis on the phonetics: RIS-TOO-SHA. Do you hear me? Let me repeat: RIS-TOO-SHA, RIS-TOO-SHA. It’s Italian. No, I don’t have any relatives in the Mafia. Yes, I make good pasta, it’s official. Yeah, I’ll spell it for you.

Then, it follows, “Where are you from?” It is assumed that I am from “Up North.” Who says we don’t have provincialism in the U.S.? There is Down South, Up North, Out West and Back East. My question is, where is Florida, since it ain’t Southern no more. Probably North Cuba, or something like that.

Up North is a vast, sprawling region in the Southern Mind. Up North stretches from Maine all the way to Chicago and encompasses everywhere in between. Up North is strange and Other. Up North is moving Down South. Up North is foreign, exotic, a land of sin and excess, a place where America isn’t America anymore, the melting pot has stewed and fermented into a broth of alien provenance. And that pot runneth over, it is spilling all the way down to the sacred red clay of Georgia herself.

“I’m from here.” I reply. They look at me dumbfounded. How can this man claim such an absurd thing? His name is strange. His nose is too big. His skin is too dark. He eats weird food. He doesn’t sound like us. Who knows what this boy does on Sundays.

“I’m from here. I was born at Athens General.” I add.

“Where’s your family from?” comes the next question regarding my pedigree and here they have me at last.

“New York.” I reply.

“NEW YORK? NEW YORK? Did you say NEW YORK?” Up North is Other, as I have said. And New York is the quintessence of Up North. New York is a yammering, crowded, crime-ridden, pestilential hell-hole carnival of licentious Blue State liberalism.

“New York! Hah! I knew it! You ain’t no Southerner, boy! Your folk ain’t from around here.”

Perhaps not. My place of birth did not confer the status of Southerner. This bothered me for awhile. Then, I realized, Southerners were an ethnic group, just like Italians! Think about it-they eat their own food, speak their own language, play their own music. Suddenly, I understood. Southerners weren’t insular and xenophobic-they were just like any other people Up North who keep to their own part of the city. Of course!

So now, when my neighbors park their bass boats in the driveway, set fire to their yards, let their dogs run loose, drive fifty miles an hour through the neighborhood en route to a Wal-Mart sale, or eat okra and think I’m the one eating weird stuff, I realize that any friction isn’t Regional. It’s ethnic. And, well, that’s something a Northerner can understand…

Leave a Reply