Friday, November 27, 2009

The regionalist dilemma

It has been a while since my last post. Folks have been asking for more posts so this is an attempt to be more frequent.

In recent months, I have been reading and researching the nature of regionalism, a movement that develop in the 1920s and 1930s to encourage an appreciation and connection with region, a place rooted in both landscape and culture. At the heart of the view is a sense of place, landscape, plants, weather, etc. giving a sense of rootedness and unique identity to a location. These features show up also in the cultural heritages of those peoples who developed in a place. Not a few of these regionalists, from Willa Cather to John Gaw Meem, John Steuart Curry, John Sloane, and Mabel Dodge Luhan, were often themselves part of the region that they celebrated. Some were descendants of generations of locals. Others were "neonatives," to use the phrase of Hal Rothman, who moved to an area and adopted it as their own.

That said, region has a dilemma. One facet of regionalism is rooted in location and anyone who connects to it is part of that region. On the other hand, region is about the people who are there and if is not of that people or has ancestry from them, connection is region is, well, a little shallow.

Increasingly, I find that it is those whose backgrounds match one but not the other qualities, tell us more and more about what and who qualifies as a member of a place. It is the Haole or Asian American who was born and grew up in Hawai'i but has no connection to Native Hawaiian ancestry. Are they truly Hawaiians-even if Hawaiian landscapes, foods, climates, etc. are what they have always known? Are they of the place or simply the descendants of those who stole the land from its earlier inhabitatns and in a sense merely inheritors of stolen property? We tend to ascribe more validity to ancestry than place--being "Hawaiian" is somewhat portable in this regard. We can talk of someone being Native Hawaiian in descent who never set foot on the islands.

This is the question: is being connected to and shaped by a place enough or is ancestry required? How much can one adopt or embrace a place without seeming fake? This will likely be a thread for what will hopefully be more posts--a thread that will connect itself to Kansas, as well, BTW.

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