For Beginners

Learn how to fit in, in the South.

June 20, 2013

Illustrator Stephanie Kubo

Familiarize yourself with “y’all.” Ever since I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, I am constantly reminded that I am from Texas when I say “y’all,” which is the Southernized contraction for “you” and “all,” if you didn’t already know. You can't help but say it with a twang. When I was an instructor at a local art university (if you keep up with my columns, you know how much I LOVED that job), I was giving a lecture and was being very articulate and formal. Then, a “y'all” slipped out of my mouth and the entire class started giggling. I asked what was so funny and one of the little hipster trolls said, “You said, ‘Y’all.’ That is so weird.” I laughed. I also gave them all F's for the day.

Get ready to attend a predominantly white university. Texas is the second-largest state in the country. There are a lot of people there; there’s also a lot of flat land that’s extremely boring to drive through. Even though there are a fair number of Asians, the state is mostly inhabited by those of the Caucasian persuasion. That said, if you are about to attend college, there’s a high probability that you’ll attend a school with a lot of white people. It will really make you realize how Asian you are and annoyingly idealistic.

Pick up line dancing. Honestly, I loathe line dancing. I hate the Achy Breaky and despise the Electric Slide. Any time one of these songs comes on at a wedding reception, I cross my arms, scowl and stand on the outer edge of the dance floor to make sure everyone knows how much I hate it. Line dancing is like forced, choreographed family fun. It's the ultimate in conformity and, in a crass way, it's like violating the dance floor with moves that were invented by the devil himself. However, I recently made a couple of amendments to my protest of line dancing. First, there is the Cupid Shuffle, which is kind of like the Electric Slide for the 21st century, but less robotic and with more swagworthy shuffling. Then, there is The Wobble, which gets more down and dirty. For the most part, this dance is just grinding your hips in the air in different directions. Sounds like fun to me.

Real Southern food is the equivalent of happiness. San Francisco is probably one of the best places in the world for fine dining. I, like every other foodie, love high-end fusion cuisine — basically, any dish with the term “reduction” in it and anything drenched in truffle oil. Then, there are times when I just want my food to be Paula Deen’d. That's when I miss the food from the South. From crawfish to fried okra to genuine Tex-Mex, there's something about the food back home that is simply magical. I think it's the grease. Every time I go back to Texas, a big portion of my itinerary is blocked off for going to some of my favorite Texas restaurants. It brings me back to the days when I was a chubby, insecure teenage boy. Things were much simpler back then.

Country music ain’t that bad. In fact, country music is possibly some of the best music out there. I appreciate the roots of the genre (especially the fantastic storytelling), but my era of choice has to be the reign of Reba McEntire and Garth Brooks. I fell in love with Reba as soon as she released a cover of the Bobbie Gentry song “Fancy.” Anyone who sings a white trash song about a mother putting her daughter into prostitution to make some cash is a genius in my book. As for Garth — probably the first real country superstar — he made country into a spectacle. From “The Thunder Rolls” to “Unanswered Prayers” (which never fails to make me cry) to his ill-advised turn as Chris Gaines, I stood by his side. And yes, I saw him in concert while attending one of the whitest universities in America, Texas A&M. Then, there is Neal McCoy. He was like the half-Filipino Billy Ray Cyrus of his time — mullet and all.

Attending a step show is crucial. During my days at A&M, I and the other members of the Philippine Student Association would always attend Greek Olympiad, the biggest (and what seemed like neverending) step show in the South. We would watch black fraternity and sorority step teams do routines for hours and be whole-heartedly entertained. The step shows are often filled with sexual innuendo and the latest and greatest in booty-poppin’ music, including lots of Dirty South. It's kind of like rhythmic gymnastics, but more aggressive and with no ribbon dancers.

Chivalry is not dead. I have noticed that men from the South have an extra chromosome of gentlemanly charm compared to men from other parts of the United States. Perhaps it is even more ingrained with Asians because we are trained from birth to respect others. There is a certain amount of chivalry that lives within even the most brute man in the South. They open doors for women, they give up their seat on the bus for the elderly and they say words like “ma’am” and “thank you” to strangers. I lost all aspects of my Southern hospitality when I realized that many strangers in San Francisco are just douche-bags.

So, keep these things in mind, and you will live splendidly as an Asian American in the South. Y’all will love it!

Dino-Ray Ramos is Hyphen’s pop culture columnist and a native Texan.


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