By Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson
As relations with Cuba began to soften, Alabama business folk began thinking of stuff we could sell to Cuba.
Lumber. Poles. Wood chips. Paper products. Automobiles. Chicken.
Think about it. Alabama has lots of chickens. Cubans like chickens.
Moreover, they prefer the dark meat.
Most folks here prefer the white. Works out just fine.
‘Course there is another reason that Alabamians would have a decided advantage in the Cuban trade.
And how do I know that being Southern will help our state crack the Cuban market?
Because I read it in the by-gum New York Times – the national newspaper of record.
This was revealed to me when my buddy John, who keeps up with these things, sent me a Times article titled “Ways of Dixie Win In Latin America,” by Helen Bullitt Lowry.
I read it and got real excited.
In the article Ms. Lowry noted that over the years American businessmen have evolved into a “type of Go-Getter best fitted to sustain life and salary and the rising cost of golf.” They prosper in a commercial atmosphere “where business is geared up to high” – “sign on the dotted line” is their motto.
But in Latin America, business is geared down a bit and as a result, “Go-Getters are not worth a darn.”
“The Latins do not like our famous high-powered salesmanship,” she writes, “or our efficiency experts, our Fire Prevention Weeks or our Eat More Apples Weeks, or our chain hotels or our realtor associations or the preppy young hustlers that we send down to do business with them.” If we had tried, we could not have picked representatives more “distasteful to the Latin temperament.”
Good point, Helen B. And now that Cuba is opening up, what has this experience taught us?
Well, according to Ms. Lowry, it should have taught us that the best folks to send to sell in Cuba should be Southerners – which you will notice Alabamians are.
Now the author knows that “pep-driven” Yankees won’t take to this very well. She knows they like to call us “lazy.” Well, she writes, that may be, but if we want to crack markets down there, “those ‘lazy Southerners’ of ours” might just be the people to do it.
Now I was a little put off by her implying that we actually are lazy, but since she turned it into a virtue I guess it’s OK. When dealing with the Times you take what you can get. Besides, Miz Lowry went on to praise our women who “cling poignantly to the tradition of family in a nation that has adopted dollars as a gauge of lineage.” She admires our men who say “Yes Sir,” and take time for the elaboration of manners in a business world that no time for these things – cultural characteristics not unlike those found in tropical climes.
The more I read, the more excited I got.
Excited because not only might sending Southerners South be good for the American economy, sending Southerners South might just help us preserve what little is left of Southern civilization.
We all know what has been happening. Southerners have gone north to make their fortunes. Up there they found that to get along among the Go-Getters they had to change, and change they did. They “drop[ped] their drawl and their restful afternoons and the ceremonious manners their mothers taught them,” They got in a hurry to make a living and forgotten how to live. And when they found success up there, they come back down here. They settled in the suburbs of cities like Atlanta and Birmingham, and set out to make everyone else just like them
A sad state of affairs.
However, if we can start sending our best and brightest down to Cuba, and from Cuba to the rest of Latin America, if we can start associating with folks whose way of life is so like our own, we can preserve Southern culture and make a little money in the process – not that the money is important.
We can do it. Speaking Spanish is no harder than speaking Yankee.
Here, at last, was hope for a brighter future.
But something about the article wasn’t quite right, kept giving me the uneasy feeling that maybe it is too late, that we have already sold out and opening the door to Cuba is not really going to help much.
That was when I looked at the date of the article.
August 8, 1926.
We had our chance and we let it slip away.
Oh well. It was a good feeling while it lasted.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is professor emeritus of history at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at hjackson@cableonenet.