I live in Louisville, Kentucky. I’m not a native, however. Like many Americans I am an immigrant. I was born in Germany, emigrated with my parents to Canada in the early 1950’s, and at the age of 5 moved to the United States. I spent my growing up years in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and upon graduating from college, I moved to California. For 20 years I lived in California and then, for the past 20 years, I’ve been living in Kentucky. So, I don’t have a distinct culture, but I have experienced three distinct American sub-cultures in my life.
The sub-cultures are distinct in many ways, but I will just focus on a couple of elements: alcohol and professional sports team names.
Milwaukee has a large population of German descendants and so not surprisingly, the most popular alcoholic beverage is beer. If you need a reminder, visit Miller Park (Miller is a major brewer) home of the Milwaukee Brewers, their major league baseball team. The NBA basketball team is called the Bucks. Bucks is slang for money, but in this case it refers to male deer. Obviously there are many deer in Wisconsin, but the affinity for deer is in large part because deer hunting is very popular in Wisconsin.
California’s best-known alcoholic beverage is wine, and there are wineries throughout the state. Viticulture was originally introduced to the region by Spanish Christian missionaries in the 18th century. The name of the San Diego major league baseball team is a symbol of those early immigrants: Padres.
While many parts of the United States had and still have immigrant concentrations from different countries, you can argue that California is populated by immigrants from different parts of the United States. Again, this is reflected in the names and history of professional sports teams. The Los Angeles Dodgers are named after trolley dodgers, but Los Angeles is better known for freeways than trolleys. The team and its name are a transplant from Brooklyn, New York. Likewise, the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team, isn’t named after lakes in the Southern California. Rather they too are a transplant; in this case from the state that calls itself “The Land of 10,000 Lakes:” Minnesota. The San Francisco 49’ers professional football team is named after those people who came to California in 1849 to seek their fortune in the recently discovered gold in Northern California.
In Kentucky, the alcoholic beverage of choice is bourbon, and this is a reflection of the early English, Irish, French and German immigrant population, all of which had distilled spirits as part of their culture. Bourbon is made from at least 51% corn and in the 18th and 19th centuries, processing corn into spirits was a good way to use extra corn. It could be stored indefinitely and had a high per pound value making it a suitable export product given the high shipping costs.
The other alcoholic beverage associated with Kentucky is moonshine: distilled spirits of no particular formula, but produced in small illegal distilleries usually in remote areas under the light of the moon. These distilleries were set up to avoid taxes on alcohol. For the most part they no longer exist, but most liquor stores now sell “legal moonshine” in jars reminiscent of the canning jars used by moonshiners of the past.
Kentucky’s best-known sporting event is the Kentucky Derby, an annual horse race. Yes, alcohol is consumed by spectators and the traditional drink is the mint julep, a combination of bourbon, mint, and sugar.
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