I feel most like an Arkansan when I am living outside the state. When I’m living in state, I’m more irritated by its flaws, and especially when I’ve lived in the rural parts of the state, I felt incredibly out of place. But when I leave, I become much more protective of the place and much prouder of my roots. I find myself constantly pointing out Arkansas connections to people and things. Studying abroad, I insisted all my Irish friends stop calling it “Ar-KANSAS.” On a date with a guy from Ohio, I was not amused when he “jokingly” explained outdoor lighting to me saying, “I don’t know if they have that where you’re from.” And when teaching school in Texas, I do not pledge allegiance to their state flag.
Let’s go back a bit. I was on a work trip to Michigan with most of the people from school, and for days we’d been whooping and cheering when the name of our school was mentioned. After a particularly enthusiastic cheer at breakfast one morning, our moderator said something like, “You can always spot the Texans.” I was surprised at how quickly I took umbrage. Perhaps it’s the old school rivalry between the states, but I’m not a Texan. I’m not sure if I’ll ever feel like one. I lived in Florida for three years, and I never felt like a Floridian. Maybe that’s because I wanted to distance myself from a state that I have often referred to as “the place where crazy goes to blend in,” but still…
The first time it was announced over the PA that we should stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States and then the Texas flag, my team teacher and I just looked at one another. She’s from Kansas, and neither of us was prepared for that moment. We’re both educated women, but this isn’t a thing either of us know. I snuck glances around the room and learned you raise your hand like you’re being sworn into court rather than over your heart like we do for the national pledge.
It’s been two weeks, though, and neither of us have learned the pledge. It’s one sentence long, but I’m trying to resist learning it for as long as possible. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from teaching, it’s that you can refuse to learn most anything. I am convinced that some students dedicate their lives to never knowing where commas go and I’ve heard students brag about how little they read for a class as though they were trying to win a competition to see who could do the least work. I was usually not that student. I was the student who read all the words, but I’m digging in my heels on this one.
I’m not doing it because it’s Texas, although I do think they have a weird obsession with their state. The thing is, people move around a lot these days. This is my third state, but I don’t know that it will be my last, and at least one of my students is a military brat who’s lived in several other states and countries. I plan to respect and obey the laws of the state while I’m living here and pay all the appropriate taxes, but the pledge makes me feel like I’m supposed to make a choice. That because I have taken a job here–and to be fair, the location was a factor in my decision to move–I have to be loyal to this place and reject all those places I lived before.
I like that my team teacher and I are from exotic places like Arkansas and Kansas. We also went to school outside or home states and traveled the world a bit, and I think that gives us unique perspectives that we can share with our students. When I told a friend of mine about the date with the guy from Ohio who made fun of me all night for being southern (not a recommended wooing strategy, by the way), my friend laughed. “So, he thought it would be a good idea to make fun of the people and the place that made you who you are today?” he asked. That line has always stuck with me because I realized it was true. I may not always live in Arkansas, but I grew up there, and a lot of my identity comes from the fact that it’s where I grew up. I lived in Florida and I live in Texas, but I’ll always be from Arkansas.