November 26, 2015

Transplant-ism breaking down large family reunions on Thanksgiving

It's striking how many Facebook posts and pictures I've seen, for years now, about 20-somethings having Thanksgiving dinner by themselves / with their partner / with their friends.

I searched Google Images for recent Thanksgiving pictures, and even when you do see a family, it's usually of a single nuclear family, not an extended family. And even the handful of extended family pictures tend not to include both a vertical and horizontal dimension -- including as many generations as possible, and as many siblings and cousins within a generation. Maybe there's a grandparent, one of their children, and their grandchildren through them -- but not all their children and all grandchildren. Or maybe there's a large group of middle-aged siblings and their children, but no grandparents.

I attribute this to the transplant phenomenon, which has grown during the status-striving climate of the past 30-40 years. It's not related to the cocooning trend, since Midcentury pictures of Thanksgiving all show extended families, vertically and horizontally around the family tree.

The Greatest Generation didn't move far away from their hometown, while the Me Generation (Silents and Boomers) left for greener pastures in the career world. Gen X-ers and Millennials are leaving for a different reason -- greener pastures for lifestyle striving (Portland, Brooklyn) -- but still to pursue individual status at the expense of duties to one's community (there's only one -- the one where you were raised).

This not only separates generations but also family members within the same generation -- one careerist sibling may head north, another south, another east, and another west. One lifestyle or persona striver from Iowa may head off to Portland, and another to Brooklyn.

And it's not always easy to simply re-trace the transplant paths. If the Greatest Gen member lives in a small town or rural area, which was way more common in the pre-striver era, it will be hard for the urban and suburban Boomer children to all make it back, let alone the grandchildren who are even more urban-dwelling. The nearest airport may be awhile away. That puts the onus on the Greatest Gen member to head for the suburbs of their Me Gen children, which in their old age they may figure isn't worth it (although mine did, up through their 60s).

When there was only one generation of transplants, it wasn't so difficult to get everybody together. But now that the second generation, too, are transplanting, there's another degree of scattering. My hunch also says that the careerist transplants didn't move as far away from their hometowns as the lifestyle strivers do. Both of these mean that the problem has accelerated over time, and has probably only become noticeable during the past 10-20 years, as the Gen X-ers and later the Millennials began to transplant away from their transplant parents.

My memories of Thanksgiving in the '80s still included most of the extended family, aside from an uncle and his wife who moved Out West awhile ago (my cousins through them were absent, too). For those of my mother's siblings who stayed in the general region, it was common to see all the aunts and uncles, as well as the cousins, and of course the grandparents on that side. But those get-togethers involved one-way travel times of at most three hours by car for all involved, and usually under two hours. You could travel there and back in the same day, so nobody needed to put you up.

Contrast with today, where transplants spend seven or eight hours door-to-door, one-way, and will have to be put up for one or more nights.

There's another way in which the lifestyle strivers seem to be making things worse. Since they're foodies, meals are a fashion contest, and fashion corrodes tradition. So why would a foodie want to trek all the way back to family, just to have the same old things for Thanksgiving? They would rather spend Thanksgiving alone and pick up a pre-made dinner from Whole Foods, as long as they put sriracha in the stuffing. That's something you could post to Facebook for status points -- not whatever your non-foodie parents would have prepared.

And of course lifestyle strivers would want to show off whatever trendy plates, glasses, and silverware they've bought in the past month. You can't do that if you're eating at a family member's house, where you can't bring your own trendoid items and would have to post Facebook pictures that showed your host's IKEA place settings from the '90s.

* * * * *

I'll be thankful for being able to share Thanksgiving with four generations for the first time in a long while, and for having had this kind of Thanksgiving during my formative years. Here are some reminders of how extensive the family relations were not so long ago, one from real life and another from Hannah and Her Sisters.


  1. Excellent post.

    Your verbalization of my own uncrystallized thoughts on social media are well enjoyed.

    I have noticed this amongst my family and others. I was notified yesterday that a sibling was deciding to stay at home rather than travel to be with the family. They are intentionally childless, which may affect the decision.

    I also got a happy thanksgiving text from a close friend who moved to Portland to join the chef scene.

    It all reminds me of some poignant lyrics from Jane's Addiction

    "True leaders gone,
    Of land and people.
    We choose no kin but adopted strangers.
    The family weakens by the length we travel...

    All of us with wings..."

  2. That's a good point about how things really break down once you have two generations of transplants. When my parents were growing up everyone in their respective families lived in the same state but now I have uncles, aunts and cousins in Oregon, Texas, Iowa, Minnesota, Florida, and even Australia. Don't have any siblings but I'm sure if I did they'd be somewhere else as well.

  3. It's not just transplant-ism, it's women not wanting to do all that work for no appreciation.

  4. No, women who don't want to cook buy their Thanksgiving meals at local supermarkets, cafeterias, etc. It's people valuing their individual status-striving games more than duties to their family.

  5. "It's not related to the cocooning trend, since Midcentury pictures of Thanksgiving all show extended families, vertically and horizontally around the family tree."

    Ethnic and national identities are tied to equality and not outgoingness. In the 50s, for instance, when the population was cocooning, but equality was rising, there was still a lot of regional loyalty, and obviously national loyalty. for instance, Northerners were still called "Yankees" and not welcomed in the South.

  6. There's a trend in the Atlanta area these days to question whether some stranger is a Yankee -- a rich charge, coming from the descendants of a latter-day carpetbagger themselves.

    It's like how some transplant from Illinois, Connecticut, Etc. says so-and-so isn't a Real New Yorker.

  7. Let's not forget how, in the 90's, so many white Gen X-ers started cos-playing as blacks. When people aren't even keeping a grasp of their race, we shouldn't expect regional identity to have much integrity.

    MTV is very defensive about accusations that they downplayed black artists in the 80's, but if they were (unconsciously?) giving a conservative white viewership what they wanted, well that's just good business sense. Liberals hate the idea of pandering to conservatives (Red Dawn might be the most hated film of the 80's, and that's saying something given the elite liberal disdain for the 80's) but how else was MTV going to survive?

    It's true that people were becoming more rootless by the 80's, but there also was a sense among most main street Americans that we went too far in the 70's and needed to dial things back a bit. And even in the 70's, many ordinary Americans still had a sense of racial/regional pride that limited posturing and multi-culturalism.

    The hardcore liberals would have the last laugh. In the 90's any visceral sense of authenticity or morality got annihilated by a culture that celebrated glibness, "ironic" detachment, mindless group think, and "edgy" flirting with once taboo things (atheism, black culture, new agey crap, weirdo sex practices, etc.).

    Ironically, people began to repress HEALTHY individuality and intuition. Creativity declined; we started looking for meaning and direction via shallow trends and a childishly reflexive and naive opposition to conservative eras (the 50's and 80's being the biggest punching bags). Instead of doing any real soul searching or going back to one's roots, we got dull and lazy.

    90's "introspective" culture was really more about ostentatious self pity and finger pointing than sincerity and humility. Or a wistful desire to be better or get closer to the people around you. With the death of danceable music in the late 90's we obviously were shutting down.

  8. My grandfather was a former textile salesman who traveled to the South, and he always claimed that many gas stations wouldn't sell to him. The movie Easy Rider, made in 1969, shows some naive hippies motorcycling into Southern areas where they eventually get murdered. Maybe an exaggeration, but it shows that at least until 1970 there was still regional hostility.

  9. I think the transplant phenomenon is more sinister than you are making it, even. It isn't just that it splits up families, it's that it destroys community. The neighborhood I grew up in decades ago still seems more real to me than the pointless agglomeration of transient-housing McMansions I live in now. As far as I can tell, almost all my neighbors feel the same way.

    Leaving this place when my kids are grown will be no skin off my nose. This house is just a house. I might live here, or someone else might live here. Whatever. This street is just a street. This subdivision is just a subdivision. The people who live here are just a random collection of people. Like the people you see in the airport.

    This is sociopathy. But it is a learned, imposed sociopathy. I am in no way sociopathic about my old, real neighborhood, the one I grew up in. My old neighborhood is my place. The people who lived there are my people (though they are scattered to the winds today). The diversity which has invaded my old neighborhood are invaders who need to be repelled so that my people can move back to where they belong.

    Even what we had in the 80s was a transitional and bad setup. One of my aunts (and her husband and child) lived with my grandmother. Another of my aunts lived two blocks down on the same street and could literally see my grandmother's house from her porch. That's real community. My nuclear family, in childhood, lived in the same MSA as my grandmother but pretty far away. Naturally, we had the big multi-generational Thanksgiving. Actually, we had big multi-generational supper almost every weekend.

    Humans naturally live their whole lives (with the exception of a possible once-and-for-all transition soon after puberty) among the same couple of hundred people. That pattern was really not broken in the developed world until the late twentieth century. Who knows what effects this bizarre experiment in cosmopolitanism will have.


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