A few months ago a good friend of mine had some harsh words about the faithful battle cry “Who Dat!” “You sound like an ignorant illiterate,” she quipped. She thought it was shameful that I’d rushed in with the herd and joined the Who Dat Nation without pause. So she served up some advice: “Do yourself a favor, and don’t say that, OK? It sounds ridiculous.” Confused, I responded that it was offensive how she denigrated the “Who Dat” chant, particularly because it has a long albeit sordid history in the Negro minstrel culture. From there, she and I volleyed points about the grammatical correctness of the chant, but in the end I was silenced, as she grew up here, not I. And what did I know about a “Who Dat”?

The funny thing about my friend’s unsolicited advice is that it stuck. Every time I’d hear the chant, I’d bob my head and shuffle my feet but wouldn’t say “Who Dat.” I didn’t care about what it sounded like –– I just didn’t want to sound like a carpetbagger while doing it. It’s one thing to write it in a Facebook status but another to actually chant it with chutzpah and belt it from your bones with recognition.

The funnier parallel about our “Who Dat” debate is how it shed light on my past avoidance to speak with a Southern drawl and my obsession to retain a Jersey accent. Even up until a few weeks ago, I used to pepper speech with words like “worter” (“water”), “fatha” (“father”), “youse” (“you all”), “fuh-getta-boud-it” (I think you know this one), as if the repetition in doing so would limit my frequent use of “y’all,” “Wesy-ana,” “Floor-duh.”
But any doubt of where my accent resided was confirmed when, while surfing the Web last week, I took an “Are you a Rebel or Yankee” online test and ended up with the score:  “48 percent Dixie. Barely in Yankeedom.” So I figured I better keep practicing. At least I thought so until my “Who Dat” warble returned in full force at the game last Sunday.

Unified with thousands of other screaming fans, it was impossible not to feel the fever of “Who Dat.” So I yelled and wailed and shrieked until my voice died. But that didn’t stop me or my friends after the game as we danced and sang with hundreds of others to the tunes of the second-line band set up across the street from the Dome.
And yesterday, as the city basked in black and gold, I recalled the earlier debate with my friend and laughed it off.  It’s great to be a part of the Who Dat Nation and this great city; I’ll say it loud and proud –– and even with a Southern twang. Right here –– the sliver by the river –– is home.

I think a poet whom I admire, Jackie Fray, sums it up best in In My Country:
walking down by the waters
down where an honest river
shakes hands with the sea,
a woman passed round me
in a slow watchful circle,
as if I were a superstition;

or the worst dregs of her imagination,
so when she finally spoke
her words spliced into bars
of an old wheel. A segment of air.
Where do you come from?
“Here,” I said, “Here. These parts.”