I am a native Texan and I write fiction about Texas. So, naturally, when I saw that the New York Times had published an article titled, “What Makes Texas Texas,” I decided I’d better see what those folks in New York think about us. What can they tell me about Texas that has eluded me while I’ve been living here all my life?
It was interesting. They employed someone who moved here from Brooklyn to write about it. Typical. The guy actually did have some interesting albeit cliché observations about the livestock shows, Frito pies, open carry gun laws, Texas flags all over everything kind of stuff.
The meat of the matter, though, as usual could be found in the comments section. The comments from people deploring our culture (or lack thereof) got the most thumbs-up recommendations from others around the country. No doubt very few of them have ever been here or done much more than fly over or drive through. They know us by reputation only.
Novelist Stephen Harrigan, himself a Texan, summed it up. “I think part of the reason Texas is having a moment is because it’s being more itself than it’s ever been.” I do love that quote. There’s just a hint of sarcasm in it—so Texan. Bless their little hearts up there in New York, they don’t know when someone is pulling their short, stubby legs.
Some of the commenters who do live in Texas managed to capture its essence. The mass of contradictions. The friendly optimistic people. Love of land. Competence. You know, real stuff. Living here in Austin surrounded by people who moved here from other places, I sometimes miss the real Texas and real Texans, the ones I grew up with. It gives me such great comfort to know they are still out there and I can rejoin them any time I want to.
Not everybody feels that way. A semi-famous liberal who had moved to Austin looking for a progressive mecca recently published a nose-thumbing (er, I mean farewell) letter to the city and Texas as she exited the state bound for San Francisco. I paraphrase: “I expected Austin to be the way I expected it to be and it wasn’t. Boo hoo.” Many people wrote back to point out that she was, after all, in the middle of Texas. A few, I think, offered to buy her plane ticket. If I could, I would just reply, “… and the horse you rode in on.” But not being from Texas, she probably wouldn’t understand. Anyway, you get the gist. It isn’t paradise and it isn’t perfect. But it has substance. There is definitely a there there.
One of my grandfathers left home at 13, worked as a cowboy on cattle drives, sold moonshine, became a U.S. Marshall, and then built a railroad. My other grandfather raised 12 college-educated children on a dirt farm in the middle of the dust bowl. That is called dealing with the unexpected.
Most Texans are passionately Texan, and that is because they are not dead inside.
My historical fiction series, The Juan Miguel Series (The Legend of Juan Miguel, The Passion of Juan Miguel, and The Return of Juan Miguel), is available online from most book sellers.