Southern Cultures 11.3 (2005) 104-108
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Between 1763 and 1767 Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon led an expedition to survey the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland. During the slave debates leading up to the Civil War, the so-called Mason and Dixon Line became the unofficial northern border of the South, the boundary between slaveholding and non-slaveholding states. So the South has a traditional border in the form of a northernmost reference point—a place to be south of—but its other borders have always been and continue to be uncertain. Three new scholarly collections suggest that, on a transnational level, the South's borders may be more ambiguous now than ever before: The American South in a Global World, edited by James L. Peacock, Harry L. Watson, and Carrie R. Matthews; Globalization and the American South, edited by James C. Cobb and William Stueck; and Look Away! The U.S. South in New World Studies, edited by Jon Smith and Deborah Cohn. Collectively, these books discuss how globalization—the process of advancing international economic and cultural exchange—affects the South, a distinct region with a reputation, somewhat undeserved, for isolationism.
The South's physical borders have always been somewhat ambiguous, but the region's imaginary borders may be a more effective and valuable measure of its [End Page 104] persistence. In effect, the South is the place where people claim to be southern; it is, to use Benedict Anderson's term, an "imagined community." A sense of common history, traditions, and values, not lines on a map, is the actual measure of the South as a social region. But a number of changes have taken place in recent years that could destabilize traditional southern identity, including the opening of global markets, the emergence of new communication technologies, the influx of both white-collar and blue-collar foreign workers into the South, and the commodification and exportation of traditional southern icons. Many of the scholars in these three collections see the result of these changes as transnationalism and the detachment of regional identity from place. As borders, both real and imaginary, erode and foreign cultures come into contact, exchanges take place on several levels—economic, social, and cultural, for example—that inevitably alter traditional practices for all of the cultures involved.
Many of the essays in Globalization and the American South and The American South in a Global World describe specific cases of foreign cultures coming into contact with southern culture. In the typical small-scale case, a small foreign population moves into a traditionally southern community, usually for economic reasons, such as the enclave of Japanese workers in North Carolina's Research Triangle Park that Sawa Kurotani discusses in her contribution to The American South in a Global World. This is one example of how transnationalism occurs; when the two cultures come into contact certain exchanges take place, but both cultures struggle to maintain their essentialized identity. While such small-scale examples reveal much about the process, one larger-scale example is responsible for much of the attention focused on globalization in the South: the emergence of the so-called Nuevo New South. Raymond Mohl's contribution to Globalization and the American South indicates that Hispanic populations in many southern states—including North Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Georgia—grew by more than 200 percent between 1990 and 2000. The massive influx of Hispanics has already altered the traditional biracial nature of...