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Moving from California to Nashville


Michael Anastasi is as California as a Californian can be.

One side of his family descends from Francisco Salvador Lugo, a Spanish soldier who helped to found the pueblo of Los Angeles in 1781 and whose son’s adobe is the oldest standing house in Los Angeles County. Another branch featured Italian fishermen who settled in the San Francisco Bay Area and worked alongside the father of Joe DiMaggio.

Anastasi grew up in Knights Landing, a majority-Latino town in the Sacramento Valley where “you grow up reading and writing, ‘L.A. sucks.’” He nevertheless attended Long Beach State, graduating with a journalism degree that led to a long career in Southern California.

That part of his life culminated in 2015, when he was executive editor of the Los Angeles News Group and the Torrance Daily Breeze won a Pulitzer Prize in local reporting for its coverage of the Centinela Valley Union High School District.

Just months after the win, Anastasi moved his family to the Volunteer State to take charge of the Tennessean.

“It was a perfect time and place, but our [15-year-old] daughter was upset,” Anastasi told me over coffee and eggs at a Waffle House minutes away from Nashville International Airport. He’s 56, imposing in physique but soft-spoken.

The diners around us were mostly Black and Latino. On the wall, a sheet of paper had breakfast terms like “bacon” and “toast,” along with “What would you like to eat?” in English and Spanish.

“She said, ‘I hate Nashville, I hate Tennessee, I hate the South, and I hate you.’ Now, she’s a senior at the University of Tennessee,” he continued.

“We did the California college tour when she was a high school senior,” he added with a smile, “and my wife kinda hoped she would pick UCLA [her alma mater]. But by then, my daughter told us she was staying in the South because ‘these are my people.’”

I was in Tennessee on assignment and wanted to catch up with Anastasi, whom I hadn’t seen in person since his big move seven years ago. He remains the Tennessean’s executive editor and is now also the South’s regional editor for Gannett’s USA Today Network, overseeing the chain’s newsrooms across Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama.

I was curious to see not just how Anastasi is doing, but how he’s guiding his reporters on covering the great California exodus to Tennessee and other parts of the South.

As my colleague Sarah Parvini reported last year, lots of y’all readers have already made the move, are thinking of it, or know California quitters who have done so. Just in one afternoon backyard barbecue I attended in Nashville, I met young adults — whites, Asians, Latinos — from Bell Gardens, Santa Maria, Santa Ana and Torrance who found the good life in Music City.

Nashville California

Todd Hood of Bold Patriot Brewing Co. moved from Norco to Nashville in 2019 and opened his brewing business in the middle of the pandemic in 2020.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Anastasi says rumors of Tennessee’s impending transformation into Temecula with a twang are overblown.

“They’re coming from everywhere,” he said. “Not just California. You do have a lot of disaffected people who aren’t as liberal as some parts of California.” He noted that people of all political persuasions are moving here for cheaper housing, lower taxes and just more space to live in.

They’re arriving to a Tennessee that’s looking and feeling more and more like the state they left.

Latino students make up half of the population in Nashville’s public schools. The city has one of the largest Kurdish populations in the United States. Questions about development, equity, gentrification and growth are now bubbling up — the very issues Californians have groaned about for decades and that many are hoping to leave behind.

“All the questions of today in California are happening here,” Anastasi said. “The limitless future against the conflicts of the past. Those issues are unfamiliar [in Tennessee]. But people from California are arrogant of Southern history, even though they haven’t interrogated themselves the way Southerners have.”

Michael Anastasi outside a Waffle House

Tennessean Executive Editor Michael Anastasi outside a Waffle House in Nashville. The native Californian has led the state’s largest newspaper since 2015.

(Gustavo Arellano / Los Angeles Times)

The transition for Anastasi from California to Tennessee was relatively seamless, daughter drama notwithstanding. His sister-in-law had lived in the state for years, and his in-laws moved in with her around the same time he took charge of the Tennessean. The only real cultural bumps so far, he said, have been accepting that Southern hospitality isn’t fake and “trying to learn about country music.”

Early on, Anastasi hired reporters from California who could come in with a different eye to document a region he could already sense was shifting.

“People weren’t realizing the change that was happening beneath their feet,” Anastasi said. “All of us from California understand the power of diversity. People here are just starting to understand it.”

He estimates that 10 former Californians have worked at the Tennessean since he started, drawn as much by the cheaper living as the chance to advance in their careers.

“Four of them bought their first homes,” Anastasi said. “Reporters became leaders. There’s the work, and then there’s the people we work with and help them with the trajectory of their lives. That’s been badass to see and help.”

One of those journalists was Jaime Cárdenas, a former L.A. Times sports reporter and L.A. Galaxy communications coordinator who worked for Anastasi at the Los Angeles News Group as a digital sports news editor.

“My first reaction to moving was ‘hell, no,’” said Cárdenas, who joined us at Waffle House for — yep — a waffle. He wore a San Diego Padres hat. “But I knew Michael was a boss I could trust,” so he joined the Tennessean in 2016.

One of the first stories Cárdenas suggested to Anastasi was a dive into how the late Tejano music legend Selena recorded her final album in Franklin, Tenn. “He was like, ‘Let’s not just do this story, let’s do more,’” said Cárdenas, now a social media strategist for Gannett who still lives in Tennessee. “Michael got that the South was nowhere near what we thought it was back in California.”

Anastasi maintains his scribe pipeline. Earlier this year, he hired Keith Sharon, a longtime Orange County Register features writer and podcast host whom Anastasi praised as “our heavy gun.”

I had a plane to catch, so I asked Anastasi an obvious final question: Is Tennessee now home?

He sits on the journalism advisory board for Middle Tennessee State, as well as several other community boards. “I can’t think of an argument to defend liberalism” in California’s government, he said, pointing out that the state’s restrictions on housing growth are pricing people out of the state.

“It’s not brain surgery,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s sustainable. Here, I don’t have to pay so much for so little. Being in California was a cocoon that made you think California was the apex of America.”

And yet …

Anastasi remains on the journalism advisory board at Long Beach State and has endowed a journalism scholarship there along with his wife.

“To me, it’s California,” he said. “It’s the most diverse campus in the system, with a lot of first-generation students who are working and achieve what they set out to do.”

He returns every summer to Northern California to hunt and fish with cousins and childhood friends. “They rail nonstop against California,” he said, “yet they’ve never left.

“California has a pull you can’t describe,” Anastasi concluded as he reached for his wallet. “But I like it in Tennessee, and this is the best job I’ve ever had.”

He then showed me his current Tennessee driver’s license and his expired California one.

“I’m a dual citizen,” he said.



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