Globalization Starts at Home?

The topic of Globalization has come up recently, and I wanted bring some of my past experiences to the conversational table (since I don’t want to waste my experiences teaching the nuances of sociolinguistic reality to Penn State undergrads).

I was looking through my notes for some good overall readings, but one that struck me was a note on a book from 1981 called the The Nine Nations of North America by Joel Garreau. I think Mom got it at an AAUW book sale, but it was quite engrossing and quite a good read.

Garreau’s thesis is that culturally speaking, Anglo America is really nine mini-nations which each have their own values and cultural orientation. The big insight here is that the nine nations cross national borders, and that states are often split between these mini nations.

For instance, he places southern Florida (including Miami) in with the Caribbean (hence the famous adage that “Miami is the capital of Latin America”) and also places much of the Southwest in the nation “Mexiamerca”. The north is no different with his “New England including Nova Scotia as well as Maine” and the “Breadbasket” going from Texas through Alberta.

And California? It’s in at least three different nations depending on where you are. Easterners though only really know the ones based in Los Angeles and San Francisco and may forget the parts close to Nevada. One can quibble with his exact divisions, but I still think the generalization stands that we don’t realize how different we are regionally, and based on several conversations, I have had, I doubt many non-Americans do either, and it can make the conversation about “who we are” tricky.

There are some good discussions about how the values of the nations come into conflict at points of contact (e.g. the different regions of Florida) in ways we don’t really fully appreciate. For instance, a policy that may make sense in a large city may seem ridiculous in a small town and vice-versa.

I would say that the same lesson applies to other parts of the world. We often speak about the values or issues of “Africa”, “Asia” or “Europe”, but the truth is that these regions are just as diverse as the nine+ plus nations of North America. Islamic North Africa of the deserts is extremely different from more southern post-colonial parts of Africa and have been for millennia. The history of Ethiopia is not the same as Tanzania. How do we help our students understand this? That is a HUGE challenge.

The other thing I like about this book is that Garreau respects all the quirks of the nations from the Cuban families maintaining strong Latin American cultural ties to the dreamers of the “Left Coast” who may drive some more pragmatic Easterners a little batty. It’s this kind of wry affection that can help you learn to understand and love your crazy neighbor a little more.

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