Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Southern Periphery

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of Florida. More specifically, I’ve tried to grasp how I feel about its national ties. As a native Floridian, I was born, grown, and educated on this sultry peninsula. I’m confident in my vague familiarity with its geography (sorry Gulf-side, I can never remember which cities are really on the west coast), politics, and crazy-ass weather patterns (that last descriptor applies to our politics too). But when I consider Florida as one of our fifty states, I falter as I try to form a comprehensive Floridian identity in my mind. I guess when I think “America,” I have an easier time first picturing the throbbing vein of urbanity in the Northeast, or the seemingly endless panorama of agricultural landscape that unfurls over the Midwest, or even the desert “frontier” of the Southwestern states. But because Florida doesn’t really strike any cord of unified identity, it gives me pause when attempting to place us within (my own perception of?) our national consciousness. This is not to say, however, that I consider Florida to be “un-American.” I just think that since Floridians don’t really share a common statewide culture, it becomes difficult to represent ourselves to the nation as a whole. Many people astutely joke that northern Florida is really an extension of lower Georgia and southern Florida is comprised of geriatric Northern snow-birds.  This state bisection becomes even more complex with the thriving diversity of Miami, which itself is ten million miles away (culturally speaking) from the gentle hills and horse farms of central Florida. Geographically, Florida seems to be this eclectic strip of extra land that awkwardly juts out of our nation’s vast contiguousness into southern periphery (I can only imagine how Hawaiians and Alaskans feel…).  And when we consider non-Floridian-Americans’ perceptions of us, our identity transforms even further. I think it’s safe to say that most people think beaches, sunshine, and Disney when describing our state. In short, we’re a place to vaycay. Since being on holiday is not “real-life”, and our cultural representation to other Americans is fully imbued with an idealized image of fun, sun, and relaxation, I beg the questions: how do other states take us seriously? More generally, can vacation destinations offer more cultural capital (even when they possess other industries besides tourism) than just, say, mouse ears? My impression of this view troubles me further when recalling our nauseating roles in national news. From the hanging chads that greeted us at the new millennium to the horrifying trial involving Casey Anthony just this year, Florida seems to create some really embarrassing stories that supply our nation with loads of gawk-fodder. Obviously, solely basing one’s idea of Florida off these heinous headlines is really reductive and unfair (I hope?). So I guess what I need to tell myself (and other states, for that matter) is that Florida’s identity lies within its very random, starkly fragmented diversity. And when you think about it, its intrinsic heterogeneity seems to reflect that of our very own country’s sprawling variety. So is Florida a microcosmic USA? No. No, most definitely not. But it’s comforting to feel connected to the nation through similiar, multi-faceted identities.

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