Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Sunday, September 26, 2021

It’s quite the identity crisis: Despite being, geographically, the deepest part of the Deep South, Florida’s regular population influxes from Northern and Midwestern states call into question just where it fits in the national sociopolitical picture. Diane Roberts argues that, despite the tendency of transplants to cling to their non-Southern identities, many of their reasons for coming to Florida only reinforce the state’s traditional Southern-ness.

Being a transplant myself, from New York — deep in Yankee territory — I’m very familiar with the reluctance of Floridian emigrants to consider themselves as Southerners. I suppose that’s true for other parts of the South where transplants settle, but it seems acute in Florida, perhaps because it’s still seen as something more of a frontier state (a holdover from the 1920s land boom).

Part of it is intra-state perceptions. I know that the South Florida metroplex (Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties) generally considers the rest of the state to be cracker country. Orlando is looked upon as even more tourist-dominated than the rest of the state. And the Panhandle is pretty much an extension of neighboring Alabama and Georgia.

I always felt that the Tampa Bay area was where the uncertain border between old-time cracker Florida and the transplant-colonized Florida was drawn. You don’t have to go too far north of Tampa Bay to heard distinctly Southern accents dominating. But head south to Sarasota and further, and you’ll find more and more pockets of Midwestern stock. (Of course, there is no clear dividing line.)

Roberts’ main argument against the notion that Florida has somehow been transformed from Southern to Northern:

Immigrants to Florida absolve the state of its own history, through ignorance or else a desire to embrace more romantic, tourist-friendly, versions of the past. The solid citizens of the heartland carry their values to Florida, but they also imbibe Southernness, as demonstrated in their reluctance to pay fair taxes or, as Martha Barnett puts it, “invest in our infrastructure or education.”

Basically, people coming here from Michigan or Pennsylvania won’t consciously associate themselves with the established, traditional culture, and so retain their out-of-state identity as a point of pride. But the traditional sociopolitical structure that favors lower taxes (as compared to other parts of the country) as a permanent incentive is too tempting to not embrace, even for those raising families. In essence, lower taxes become the main compensation for relocating to Florida, and in turn inject a distinctly Southern sensibility into these former Northerners/Midwesterners.

I also really like Roberts’ characterization of Florida’s Cubans, who are often pointed to as proof of the state’s un-Southernization:

But the Cubans are arguably the most Southern people on Earth. Cuba was a plantation society, a slave society. Fidel Castro mounted a rebellion that destroyed the landed class, and now Florida Cubans talk about him the way the Daughters of the Confederacy talk about Gen. Sherman.

The exiles understand the Lost Cause. They romanticize defeat so heavily you can almost hear the theme music from Gone With the Wind playing in the background.

Now, Cubans aren’t indistinguishable from Faulkner characters or even denizens of rural North Florida. They do, however, manifest so-called “Southern” traits: piety, obsession with honor, chastity, violence, manliness — sound like anyone you know? Far from being an exotic incursion into Florida, the Cubans fit right in.

Pretty spot on.

When speaking of my current home state, I’m fond of summing it up thusly: The South is north of us. It’s terribly oversimplified, but seems to fit. I think Roberts’ point is that, as distinct as Florida’s demographics have become over the past half-century, deeper historical patterns — basicaly, what makes the engine run — remain and keep the state rooted in its native region, whether we want it to or not.

- Costa Tsiokos, Sun 09/26/2004 09:12:29 PM
Category: Political, Florida Livin', Society | Permalink |

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  1. Yes, yes… for years I have said if you want to see the south, head north.

    Comment by tommy — 09/27/2004 @ 10:12:56 AM

  2. I remember thinking that when I was visiting Tallahassee, that northern florida/sourthern georgia was more ’southern’ than where I lived (tampa bay).

    A big part of it was going to northern states as a young adult, and finding out that people expected me to talk like a hick. Its a bit strange, really, because my parents are both from Louisiana, yet they have no drawl or inflection that would suggest they were from the south either.

    In fact, most of the people I know are completely devoid of any kind of accent whatsoever, unless they come from Boston or Maine or New Jersey or whatever. Kind of strange, isn’t it? Must be something in the water.

    I do say ‘ya’ll’, but not all the time.

    Comment by The Belt — 09/27/2004 @ 11:25:48 AM

  3. […] es many population characteristics, including a strong Republican streak (going along with that part of Florida’s more distinctive Southernness). […]

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  4. […] h cultural manifestations as NASCAR and country music. - Finally, I’m reminded that my own home state of Florida is the site for points of contact b […]

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