You wouldn’t know it by talking to me, but English isn’t my first language. My parents and my grandparents spoke Vietnamese exclusively to me. I was throw into English immersion when I begin kindergarten at public school.
I don’t speak “Southern” either. After people get over their shock of my English-as-a-second-language skills, that was the next surprise. For someone who was born and raised in Louisiana, I don’t really have a southern accent. Maybe I do after a couple of margaritas, but I mostly lay on the accent to entertain myself.
In her memoir Under Magnolia, Frances Mayes recalls how returning home means hearing the words and slang we grew up with. They’re not missed until you’re somewhere else.
That sums up my relationship with y’all.
For the uninitiated, y’all is the contraction for “you all.” Northerners might be familiar with the similar “youse.”
As a child, I was a stickler for grammar and proper English. I rarely ever used “y’all” in everyday conversation, even though the word flew around me like a murder of crows. I thought it made me sound country. I mean, who’s ever heard of a country Asian girl?
Then I spent three years in snowy, cold Syracuse, NY for a job. Calling Syracuse cold and snowy is an understatement. What I also found cold there were the people. While my coworkers and friends were very friendly, strangers gave me the side eye for attempting to make conversation with them. In the South, we chat with people in the grocery check-in line. When I took walks in parents’ neighborhood, I waved at every car that drove past me–and they drove back.
All of a sudden, the small town I desperately wanted to escape from felt so far away from cold Syracuse. I missed the friendliness–that southern hospitality I’d heard non-southerners gush over. I never thought of it as a thing until I moved away.
I realized that I didn’t want to lose my southern-ness. So I added “y’all” into my vernacular.
At first y’all didn’t roll of my tongue. It felt foreign and strange. The more I said it, the easier it became. Every time y’all flew out of my mouth, I felt a connection to my hometown. It was a beacon to find other southerners.
We live in Maryland now and I know it’s considered the South. But Louisiana is my South.
Y’all never forget that, you hear?
This post was inspired by Under Magnolia by Frances Mayes, a memoir of her return to her roots in the South. Join From Left to Write on April 30th as we discuss Under Magnolia. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links.