Texas: A State of Mind?

June 18, 2015

     "Texan" should be an ethnicity. You can't lump Texans into a category, but, more than any other state, we often identify ourselves as Texan before we say we're American. Some of us are more fiercely identified than others with Texas as a home country. I read a Texas actor's interview recently, and he had this disclaimer: "I don't wrap myself in the Texas flag." Would anyone from any other state need to say that? "I don't wrap myself in the Michgan flag?" I don't think so. And while Texans readily--unless they're afraid of being judged--identify themselves as such, we don't often (or ever) hear people say, "I'm a Washingtonian, Floridian, or Connecticuttian." I have heard "Bostonian."  And "New Yorker."

     When I was in college, I lived in a duplex next to a young married couple, last name Naifa. I had seen him on the driveway--very dark features, big black moustache. When my boyfriend at the time and I got a chance to introduce ourselves, the men shook hands, and Mr. Naifa said what I thought was "Ahmab." I just knew he was fresh out of the Levantine lands. My boyfriend said, "What is your country?" His response:  "Ah'm a Texan! From Sweetwater!" We broke into laughter, because he'd first given his name.  Instead of "Ahmab," he'd said, "I'm Abe." He was third generation Lebanese, by the way. 

     More people around the world can identify the shape of Texas than any other state or country ourside their own. This also applies to the Texas flag. Texas is the only state in the Union that was an independent country first, albeit for a very short time.

     When John Steinbeck said that Texas is a "state of mind," he (I'm sure, unwittingly) bolstered Texans' already fierce and defensive pride in home and country--Texas country, that is. Songs and T-shirts have spun off those words. Steinbeck continued with his commentary on this mindstate, describing it as a "mystique" and compared it to a religion, which few people care to examine closely, lest they become lost in "mystery or paradox." Maybe it's changed since Steinbeck wrote these words, so he might have penned an accurate description back in the 1960s when he was traveling the US with his big poodle buddy, Charley.

     But Texas has been depicted in minuscule detail by an army of authors and movie producers, from Giant  on through The Last Picture Show to No Country for Old Men. I often think of Tommy Lee Jones's craggy mug as the face of Texas in movies such as the setting-driven Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. Dennis Quaid, another craggy face these days, can pull out the Texas charm, too. Gary Busey, another Texas actor, while not playing predominantly Texas roles, has a Texas toughness about him. I'm proud to say that Beyonce is a Texan, along with other beauties--Jennifer Garner, Farrah Fawcett, Sissy Spacek, and Eva Longoria, to name a few.  The world gets to look at Texans all the time, maybe unwittingly. Texas, if anything, might have been over-depicted. But that's a subject for another blog.

     Yes, Texas is a state of mind, but more than anything, Texans are an ethnic group.

    

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