There are a lot of misconceptions about the Southern United States citizens. I find most of these misconceptions are formed by people who have 1. never visited the South and 2. overheard something from a "friend" about backwards Southern ways. There are plenty of backwards people in the South, just like there are anywhere else.
I'll never forget the time when I was camping in upstate Maine when a guy who had a shirt with a South Georgia city on it laughed when I wondered out loud where he got the shirt because that city is "way on down there." This fellow had the heavy Mainer accent (that I find very charming) and had never traveled out of Maine before. Yes, clearly, I was the backwards person in that instance.
Backwards is everywhere.
Having said that, I can't deny that we don't have scores of racist fools down here. But, I personally think there are scores of racist fools everywhere. The Guardian just printed an article about how the ratio of black prisoners to white prisoners in the UK is higher than that of the United States. I also can't deny the number of people down in Georgia who still have the confederate flag on their bumper on somewhere else on their vehicle and/or person. If you question them about it, they'll claim it as part of their heritage (as an allusion to the Civil War). However, the confederate flag -as we know it today- was created in response to the Jim Crow laws. . .So, let's not lie, it's a big ole slap at equality. All the same, the people waving the confederate flag live in rural, less densely populated areas. I've never seen a confederate flag on an Atlantan (maybe in a museum etc.). Basically, it is not okay to act like a racist fool in a more metropolitan area, because someone will say something. . . 'Cause, hey, socially aware Southerners ain't afraid of nothing!
While you have all of these "socially aware" people in heavy metropolitan areas and also among the affluent, there is still an undercurrent of racism that is accepted by these same people: Anti-Mexican. Mexican immigrants have literally poured into the South in last decades. Some areas have such a strong Mexican population that Spanish is the more common language. A lot of Southerners have taken a HUGE affront to this, spewing things like: "Speak English!" And, as you can go to the DMV and take the test in Spanish, there is a huge ado about that as well.
In fact, a lot of people assume if they hear Spanish that the person speaking it is Mexican, and the same even holds true for Portuguese. Some folks even go so far as to assume anyone who appears to be Hispanic must be Mexican! Honestly, I think some people may be so dull they think the word Hispanic is interchangeable with Mexican!! As such, it is "accepted" to slur Mexican persons in many circles.
I am fortunate in that I grew up in a home that didn't tolerate unsympathetic behavior towards anyone. And, I also grew up knowing a lot of Mexican families. So, for me, when I hear one of these slurs there is face to it.
What is so cool about many of the Mexican persons in the South today is that these people are now 2nd or 3rd generation American and are highly educated (if they weren't already!). The reasons for their families to immigrate here has come to fruition. Twenty years ago most of the subcontractors my father used in his construction business were white-owned. Today, nearly all of them are Mexican owned. How awesome is that?!
My students repeat a lot of the slurs they hear at home because they are modeling adult behavior. They almost seem confused when I redirect them and explain why the slur is offensive. And, guys, this is from very affluent students who have seriously involved parents. I think this behavior is best demonstrated in the following example:
My first year teaching I had 6th grade students make Underground Railroad quilts. As they finished the project, they had to write a letter to someone on the Underground Railroad from the current time (a time traveling letter!). One student wrote this: ". . . I hope you find your family soon. And, don't worry. No one is racist today. We all just hate Mexicans."
Y'all. For real. He wrote that down and didn't think there was anything wrong with the statement. We had a very teachable moment that afternoon, let me tell you!
Soooo (long story) I like to incorporate Mexican culture (any and all culture really) whenever I can to demonstrate to students how rich and awesome our Mexican friends are. The history of Dia de los Muertos is just so wonderful! My students LOVE learning about it, and have tons of fun making it. For this project we (5th graders) made clay "sugar" skulls, and then the students had to use the steps they took to make the skulls to tell a silly story. For instance, one student told a story of a 35 year old 5th grade student who had to find the "perfect" recipe for making a sugar skull to graduate the 5th grade.