Texas is one of the most misunderstood places on earth. Hollywood has created a stereotypical image of the state over the years and sadly that impression has stuck. The truth is that Texas is so vast and so diverse that it is like a microcosm of the United States at large. It’s pretty much possible to find anything that exists in other parts of the country right inside the borders of Texas. If our nation was more akin to the European Union, Texas would be one of its most powerful members. It has often been noted that Texas is among the few states that might be able to exist independently, using only its own natural resources. A recurring joke in times of political upheaval is that Texas should consider seceding from the Union.
Several Texas cities rank in the top echelons of the country and amazingly each of them is quite different from the others. Highest on the list is Houston, arguably the most ethnically diverse place in the United States and perhaps even the world. While the metropolitan area has its share of truck driving, gun toting conservatives, the city itself is solidly democratic and boasts representation from virtually every country on earth. As proven time and again during floods and hurricanes, the people of Houston may disagree on political issues but when push comes to shove they always work together. Mostly they live side by side without much ado. Houston has always had a live and let live philosophy that is perhaps best demonstrated in its continual insistence that there be few zoning laws, making it a crazy quilt of businesses and neighborhoods that somehow coexist with little fanfare.
Dallas is a city of a different stripe. Zoning there has created a seemingly better organized conglomerate of communities, businesses and industry. It sometimes appears to be a wealthier, more sophisticated place than Houston. The citizens like to dress up, especially the women. It is the city most closely associated with the outsider’s view of Texas. In many ways it is the original source of so many of the Texas stereotypes that include hard driving businessmen decked out in designer cowboy boots. It is Houston’s biggest rival that often holds in nose in the presence of the oil stained fingernails of the Houston laboring class. Dallas was sadly and unfairly tainted when President Kennedy was assassinated there. It bears a stain for all time that is hardly representative of what it really is. It has been a center of commerce from long before cities like Houston managed to gain their own identity. At one time it lay at the crossroads of America.
San Antonio is one of the fastest growing cities in all of the United States. It’s roots lie in Spanish culture. It is where missionaries first built the beautiful churches and enclaves designed to serve as outposts for settlers and educational centers for the native population. It is a slower moving city, more inclined to run as leisurely as the river that flows through its downtown area. As the home of the Alamo it is the most recognized center of the Texas Revolution even though ultimate victory occurred at San Jacinto just outside of Houston. It is a friendly place built on rock quarries and a desert like climate. People love the town for its many attractions and seemingly never ending celebrations.
Austin is the state’s capitol and home to the University of Texas. It is the most politically liberal place in all of Texas. It has become a mecca for free thinkers and artists. It attracts musicians and actors alike. It’s high tech industries make it a kind of mini-Silicon Valley. Nestled at the edge of the Hill Country it has a loveliness of geography that includes dramatic vistas and beautiful lakes. It is often said that everyone who attends UT ultimately wants to settle down forever in Austin. Sadly, not everyone gets that opportunity.
Texas has sixteen National Parks that range from the craggy canyons of Big Bend to the pristine shores of Padre Island. The Guadelupe and Davis Mountains are filled with archeological wonders that speak of a time when raging waters reshaped the earth. Tucked into far west Texas where the night is mostly lit by the stars is one of the country’s most important and powerful telescopes. The McDonald Observatory continuously gathers data from the heavens and opens its doors to scientists and visitors from all around the world.
Texas has oil, natural gas, vast farms and ranches. Its many industries make it a wealthy state bursting with job opportunities for its citizens. Its highways are dotted with small towns that speak of the influence of the immigrants who once came from Europe and the eastern United States in search of a new and better life. During the late nineteenth century signs in front of abandoned homes in other states often declared, “Gone to Texas.” Among them were my own ancestors and those of my husband, people who had barely eked out a living elsewhere who saw hope in the state whose name means “friend.”
I love Texas. We have produced presidents, authors, musicians, dancers, actors, scientists, educators, athletes and all sorts of famous people here. Texas is a hopeful place where it seems possible for even the most fanciful dreams to come true. It is a state where people leave you alone if that is what you wish or befriend you with gusto if you’d rather. It is filled with the flavors and customs of the world all mashed together into new incarnations like Tex Mex food. It is both a melting pot and a glorious tossed salad of many flavors.
Like any other human creation Texas has its problems but somehow the spirit of the people mostly manages to overcome those things. There is a bit too much rain in Houston and not nearly enough in San Antonio. We still argue over whether or not Stephen F. Austin’s colonists should have revolted against the Mexican government and if Sam Houston was ultimately correct in suggesting that our state should never have joined the Confederates in their civil war. We’ve had our problems with civil rights and yet our cities have boasted African American, Hispanic and gay mayors. We still have a way to go with our public schools but we also proudly point to institutions like Rice University and a system of public universities that consistently rank with the best in the world. We continue to work at bringing more equality to the healthcare of our citizens but at the same time it would be difficult to find better medical centers than the one in Houston that attracts people from all across the globe.
Those who have never been to Texas see us through a one dimensional lens. To them we are a bunch of slow talking, dim witted cowboys who haven’t quite entered the twenty first century. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ours is a state of many riches and wonders. From its very beginning Texas has sheltered people like my grandparents who might have otherwise lived out their days under the flag of tyranny and want. It is a land where people might escape the failures of their past and start again anew. It is a welcoming place where anyone who is willing to invest some sweat equity might succeed. It offers cities and towns that represent the full spectrum of philosophical and political thought. It is a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll. It is my home and I love it.