If we have met, you know that I am working with a highly regional speech pattern. Once, I could and would suppress it. Notably, I put it in the closet to go meet my honorable future in-laws for the first time, upstate.
I knew my vigilance was working when they complimented me on not sounding Southern.
Twenty years later, I wear it all the time. I’ve decided it is a way of preserving biocultural diversity.
In “Looking for My Cojoc,” my colleague Kati Vereshaka wrote a poignant account of her search for a traditional embroidered sheepskin vest in her home country, Romania.
She wrote, “There was a time before everything came wrapped in plastic; when every stitch on a shirt told a story; when sitting around a fire was a history lesson, catching up on news, quality time with the family, and bedtime story all wrapped into one.”
Sustaining and Strengthening
And I thought, oh yeah. Like the ladies of Romania Vereshaka describes, people here would gather to make our traditional crafts. In America it was quilts and needlepoint. I’ve read a study or two that say working with one’s hands is calming, healing. We all know that genuine social interaction helps people live longer. Those Romanian and American needlewomen were not only creating beautiful, useful objects. They were sustaining a beautiful culture and strengthening their own health.
That was two or three generations ago. Now we gather to watch HBO. Or even worse, scatter to gaze into our individual screens.
Our hands, masterpieces of versatility, don’t exactly fulfill their potential when they hold an addictive little rectangle and send tweets and texts. Or when they press a remote.
But as Verashaka wrote, globalization is homogenizing all cultures, making everyone everywhere the same. My counterpart in South Korea might hold the same little rectangle as the one I hold.
A column in the New York Times today offered the amazing factoid that languages are dying out at the same rate as species. The authors wrote that globalization is limiting how we speak and read, according to the report “Biocultural Diversity: Threatened Species, Endangered Languages.”
If we are indeed in the process of a mass extinction, there may not be a remedy. It might be our larger fate.
If we are, I hope rich varieties of culture rise anew. I do not want the world to be one big sterilized nothing.
American quilting bees and the Romanian way of spending years making a trousseau to adorn your married life are the kinds of things that feed the soul.
If we are not in the process of a mass extinction, I want to protect and revive all those great individual bits of traditional culture.
Living in an air-conditioned pod with the windows sealed and gazing into a screen are not the kinds of things that feed the soul.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m no Luddite. I like cars and aeroplanes (as my father called them) and the Interwebs and modern medicine, I totally do.
But I think many of those unique traditions are gifts from the gods. Treasures.
Appalachian singing, quilting, storytelling, how to fry catfish, caring for cast iron skillets, growing your own okra and tomatoes, bottle trees (to catch evil spirits before they enter your house), drinking honeysuckle nectar, frying hoe cakes, making dolls from hibiscus blossoms—these bits of knowledge live in me, and I am going to keep them alive.
Also going to keep my accent. It’s an auditory reminder of when regions had regional character, when unique traditions were going strong.
Y’all keep your accents, too. They add flavor. When you keep yours, you are conserving biocultural diversity.