Change Your Life!
A feature:-The diversified state ‘Bushy Texas’
July 3, 2000
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Let's dispense with this right away: It's big. Really big. But you already knew that.
And this, too: Those cowboys, that whole taming the American frontier thing? It's certainly true, albeit a tiny bit of the truth.
And the oilmen, the wildcatters who built empires and legends with their loose money and large living? Same story. One small sliver of one big - really big - picture.
Texas the legend. America knows it like no other state. Texas the reality. America barely knows it at all.
Whatever you think Texas is, there's always something different, something more. For every fifth-generation cattle rancher, there's a first-generation dot-com executive. For every Midland oilman, there's a Vietnamese shrimper in Galveston Bay. For every college-educated, let's-eat-out-again-tonight Metroplexer, there's a destitute, can't-afford-dinner immigrant family. For every parched patch, there's a lush lake.
Texans like to call their state a small country. And, in fact, it was once a sovereign nation. But it's more than that. Size and culture, geography and attitude have come together to form a unique beast - something that contains much of what America is, and much of what it's becoming.
Describe Texas? Texas defies that at every turn. But since George W. Bush, the guy who may end up running our country, is now running Texas, it's certainly worth a try.
"I don't say, `This is what Texas is like,"' says Larry McMurtry, used bookstore proprietor and, more famously, author of Texas novels like "Lonesome Dove." Instead, he says, "I let them
look for themselves."
So let's look. ---
He wears a pair of Wranglers, chestnut boots and a maroon baseball cap bearing the name of a livestock carrier. His office is an endless stretch of mesquite and prairie on the outskirts of
Gonzales, a ranching town of 6,500 souls that his great-great-granddad helped settle 60 miles (97 kilometers)south of Austin.
She, too, sports bluejeans - on casual Friday, at least - along with a T-shirt displaying her company logo. She occupies a corner suite in a 40,000-square-foot (3,600-square-meter) building in a burgeoning commercial zone in northwest Austin.
His business is cattle. Hers is computers. Both are Texans, born and bred, and both have the twang to prove it. Beyond that, Bryan Denman and Georgia Jones are as different as a Panhandle winter and a Houston summer - as diverse and divergent as Texas itself.
In most every respect, Texas is one place that contains many places - cultures, attitudes and people all thrown into the same pot to coexist under one American state government. "From the outside looking in, you can't understand it. And from the inside looking out, you can't explain it," says Joe White, director of the East Texas Oil Museum in Kilgore.
There are pine trees in East Texas, plains out West. There's Guadalupe Peak, the state's highest point at 8,749 feet (2,624.7 meters), and the beaches of South Padre Island. There are cotton
fields and cattle ranches, orchards and oil wells. Tornadoes and hurricanes, floods and drought. The mansions of Houston and colonias of Laredo. Dallasites in furs, Austinites with pierced noses.
"I don't think there's a way to describe it without there being an exception," says Ron Tyler, director of the Texas State Historical Association and editor of the Handbook of Texas, an encyclopedia of state history, geography and culture.
"Whose story am I going to tell? The story of the East Texas sharecropper or the Hispanic barrio resident or the high-tech developer who's just sold his company and retired young?" he says.
"Every story is different."
At the beginning, Texas was agricultural and rural. Cotton and cattle were king, and less than a quarter of Texans lived in cities.
By 1981, 80 years after oil was discovered, the petroleum industry accounted for more than one-quarter of the state's economy. In 1991, after the oil bust and savings-and-loan collapse, that number was halved.
Today, technology is the new dean of the Texas economy, employing 411,000 people, compared with 184,000 in oil and gas drilling and petroleum refining and 210,000 in agriculture and food products. And the land itself has changed, too: The state ranks fifth in the nation for toxic chemicals released into the environment, and Houston has surpassed Los Angeles as the nation's smoggiest city.
those who live here believe outsiders still see the Texas of lore:
wildcatters and cattle barons, farmland and dusty plains, tobacco-chewing
bubbas. "They still tend to think of Texans as barbarians - rude,
crude, loud, rip-up-their-shirts, show-you-their-scars and do all kinds of
crazy stuff," says Texas humorist and political pundit Molly Ivins.
"That's true, but it's not as true as many people think."
The brochure by the Motel 6 front desk outside Dallas is glossy and enticing, beckoning tourists to come visit a piece of Texas: Southfork Ranch, home to the fabled Ewing family of ranching and wildcatting fame. Trouble is, the family never existed - except on the set of "Dallas."
For Texas, such fictions are both bane and salvation. The state has long been caught in an elaborate dance of myth and reality, exploiting the former while complaining that nobody pays attention to the latter.
Start with Davy Crockett at the Alamo, and you're off. Want cowboys and Indians? Watch John Wayne in "Red River." Looking for the "true story" about how oilmen built Texas? Rent "Giant" and
see Rock Hudson and James Dean amass their empires. Hankering for a torrid tale about the high plains? Larry McMurtry's dying-town epic "The Last Picture Show" is dlrs 7.99 in paperback.
That's but the briefest smattering. In every corner of American pop culture, there's a boot-wearing, big-talking, cash-tossing, metaphor-abusing Big Guy who just happens to be from the Lone Star
State. It can wear on a Texan.
"Where does the myth stop and the reality begin? In many ways, you can't separate the two," White says as he walks through the East Texas Oil Museum, which chronicles both fact and legend.
It doesn't hurt - or help, depending on your perspective - that Texas seems to produce outsized events and outsized people.
Kennedy, of course, was killed in Texas, creating a reputation that Dallas has yet to live down. Texas also produced JFK's successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, one of the most outsized Texas politicians of all. And no look at big-talking Texas politicians can exclude Ross Perot, one of the biggest talkers of all. And sports? The Dallas Cowboys are arguably the biggest team of all time. In Texas, even high-school football takes on a decidedly tribal fervor.
Each of these figures, each of these events is reality - and fodder for the ongoing myth as well. The elaborate dance endures today, albeit more subtly. Fox's cartoon series "King of the Hill" deadpans its way through a Texas suburb - complete with sprawl, superstores, a paranoid militia type named Dale Gribble and an obnoxious neighbor from Laos. Eric Bogosian's "subUrbia" chronicles Gen-X malaise in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Chuck Norris' "Walker: Texas Ranger," is heir to the shoot-'em-ups.
Texas' reputation is a living museum that travels the nation by word of mouth, disseminating antiquated notions until they become more familiar than the truth.
"I thought I'd see a lot of cowboys. I've seen maybe one," says Amanda Willis, a junior at Texas Lutheran University who moved to Texas from Tennessee in January.
Some Texas myth vs. Texas reality, then: -A land of wide-open spaces? True, but not like it once was.
Three million people lived in Texas in 1900. The state is now the second-most populous behind California, with more than 20 million people.
-Rural? In 1900, only 17.1 percent of Texas' population lived in cities. Today it's 85 percent. The state's 27 metropolitan areas accounted for more than 91 percent of its growth in the 1990s. And
among the fastest-growing areas are towns on the Mexico border.
-White? Not hardly. Hispanics will account for two-thirds of Texas' growth and are expected to outnumber Anglos by 2025. Asians are taking up residence all over metropolitan Texas.
-Cattle ranchers and wildcatters? They're still around, but Texas also ranks second behind California in high-tech employment and growth. It added more than 132,000 high-technology jobs from 1993 to 1998, and tech companies employ 56 of every 1,000 private-sector workers.
-Arid scrub and frontier desert? Yes, but also 370 miles (595.33 kilometers) of coast and 80,000 miles (128,720 kilometers) of rivers. Raft the Guadalupe River under a thicket of cypress, sycamore, willow and elm. Or drive the twisting peaks of the Edwards Plateau - Texas Hill Country.
-And the "Yellow Rose of Texas"? Not even that. The state flower is the bluebonnet.
It was the summer of 1836 in the fledgling Republic of Texas. The new nation had declared independence from Mexico after the Alamo's fall months earlier. The war was in full swing, and Texas' leaders were considering joining the United States.
In 17 municipalities, stretching from the Red River to the Rio Grande, lived 30,000 Anglo-Americans, 3,478 Mexican-Texans, 14,200 Indians and 5,000 slaves. A "typical Texan" was an immigrant from the southern United States. "Typical Texas" was white, rural and
wild - a 251.6-million-acre expanse that included parts of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Oklahoma.
In 2000, a typical Texan is Senate security guard Victor Sanchez. Or Sally Tilley-Cuevas, a Spanish teacher at a San Antonio high school whose husband is from Mexico City. Or Lynn Smith Jr., a rancher who wears a cowboy hat, tucks pants into boots and still says "ain't." Typical Texas? Try Haltom City near Fort Worth, where just one block contains Mariachi's Home-style Mexican Food, Marvin's Ol' South restaurant, the Little Saigon Mall and Arby's. From the Caddo and Atakapan Indians to the Germans who settled in New Braunfels, from the Czechs who settled in the town of West to the Chinese who worked on the railroad in El Paso, Texas has always been a cultural mix of people looking for land, opportunity and new lives.
"With New York or LA, what comes to mind for many Americans is an area with lots of culture, lots of people from different parts of the world," says Texas demographer Steve Murdock. "That's the reality here in Texas, but it's not as well understood."
From 1900 to 1930, the number of Tejanos, Texans of Mexican descent, rose from 71,062 to 683,681 as Mexicans streamed across the border looking for agricultural work.
Today, 6.3 million Texans, about one in three, are Hispanic, most of them Tejanos. Texas has the country's third-largest population of blacks, the fourth-largest Asian and Pacific Islander population and the eighth-largest American Indian population. And other minority groups are growing rapidly.
"You can drive across Houston and see a Southern Baptist church and a temple that could be in India," says John L. Davis, a historian at the Institute of Texan Cultures. "If I wanted to convey all of Texas, I would ask for a visit. You have to walk the land."
Inside Larry McMurtry's bookstore in the north-central dust speck that is Archer City, the Texas section reaches nearly 15 feet (4.5 meters) into the air and stretches the length of four horses.
Some volumes are poetic. Some are ribald. Some are blunt, some subtle, some ridiculous. Some reinforce the Texas stereotypes; others knock them down. Each tells a story, but not the entire story
- just like Texans themselves. And therein lies the big picture. This is the state led by George W. Bush, the governor pushing to become our second President Bush. He likes to talk about Texas'
size, its diversity, its being a model. About how if he can lead Texas, with its cultures in transition and its economic balancing acts and its balanced-budget requirement, surely he can lead the
It's hardly the same thing, of course. The Texas governor's duties are limited. Bush makes appointments, vetoes bills, calls special legislative sessions. The lieutenant governor, who presides over the Senate, and even the land commissioner, who manages mineral-right properties, could be considered more powerful.
Bush is right in one sense, though: What state possesses the dynamic combination of size, population, cultural diversity and economic clout that Texas does? What state's challenges reflect the entire union's so clearly?
It's Eastern and Southern, Midwestern and Western. It's good neighbors - and good fences. It's more executions than any other state. It's Jasper, where a black man was dragged to his death, and El Cenizo, where city meetings are conducted in Spanish. It's Bowie, where downtown is so quiet you can hear a foam cup blow down the street, and Hurst-Bedford-Euless, a three-city area that rarely slows down. It's "Don't Mess with Texas" - both as an anti-litter slogan and a billboard for groups suspicious about the United Nations.
It's the tow-truck driver who stays in East Texas, far from any city, because he needs the space - and lots of it. It's the manager of Garland, a Metroplex community, who's working to secure a regional mall. It's the governor who wants to be president. It's urban chain-store landscapes of IHOPs and Blockbuster Videos, and the Snook Drive-In Grocery in the little town of Snook. It's an array of small communities and an incubator for big dreams.
And it's Robert E. Lee High School in San Antonio, where the students - a mix of white, black and Hispanic - shout out their own views of the Lone Star State:
"Rocket ships." "A lot of talent." "Brown, black, Chinese - it's cultural." "There's, like, a lot of things to see."
Don't mess with Texas? Don't try to pigeonhole it, either. It simply is what it is.