by Nick Palmisciano We need to step up. All of us....
The Texas Question
By Jack Mandaville
I remember our vehicle coming to a slow halt right as our company’s column crossed over the Kuwaiti border from Iraq. Any of you who have made that drive from Iraq to Kuwait know that exact moment when you cross that line—like crossing from Tijuana into San Diego: the air becomes instantly cleaner, a sense of safety blankets you, and the hordes of children trying to peddle cheaply made goods disappears. Since our platoon was bringing up the rear of the long file, I had a perfect view of everything going on in front of us.
None of us understood why our company commander wanted to halt the company at the border, so we waited in awkward silence for a few minutes until a call came over the company net: “I need all Texas Marines to dismount and join the CO at his vehicle.”
Like a violent swarm of biblical locust, Marines and Sailors from our company wildly jumped from their respective vehicles and ran up to the front of the column. Even my vehicle, which carried three crewmen and four riflemen in the back, lost three of our Marines to this request. The rest of us were left to sit in the vehicle and stare at each other with confused looks about what was going on.
After a few more minutes, as I sat in the underbelly of our vehicle, my vehicle commander got on the intercom. “Holy shit, Mandaville. Pop up and check this shit out.”
What I saw was a few dozen American Marines and Sailors posing with a gigantic Texas flag, smiling as one of the non-Texans reluctantly snapped pictures with numerous cameras that had been handed to him. All I could do was stare at my vehicle commander with one of those Oh, God, the Texans are at it again faces.
Our commanding officer, who was a Texas A&M graduate, was all too eager to highlight the presence of the Lone Star caste. (Anyone who knows anything about Texas can tell you that A&M alumni are, arguably, the most rabidly loyal fans in America—the collegiate equivalent of Raider fans… except A&M folks are educated and lack felony criminal records.)
This little photo op, while not the first time I witnessed grandstanding from these folks, really solidified the notion that Texans are a separate breed of American. Like the Lacedaemonians of Ancient Greece, they live as a fiercely independent people within a larger culture… or, to put it in a modern geopolitical context, like French-speaking Canadians living in Canada. It’s one of those things you come to both respect and despise.
For normal Americans like me, you never expect someone to say, “We need all Minnesotans to make their way up to the front of the column for a picture… and bring a state flag with you.” All three of us would have been a little perplexed by that kind of request. But this was nothing out of the ordinary for a Texan. Their pack has numbers and, moreover, an unbridled desire to let the world know where they’re from.
They assertively carry their banners with them like rebel flag bearers marching towards Ziegler’s Grove, get the Gonzales Flag and other inside symbols tattooed all over their bodies, celebrate their state’s independence from Mexico on March 2nd like Mexicans celebrate their independence from France on May 5th (… And, for that matter, like the French celebrate their independence from themselves on July 14th), and view their geographical location the same way the Chinese view theirs: like it’s the center of the universe. Minnesotans are simply happy when people pick up on their Mighty Ducks references.
And now, nine years after that grandiose photo op took place, I’ve found myself living among these people—not as an active-duty Marine sharing space with them in Iraq or a Southern California military installation, but on their home turf: Texas. Within four years I’ve lived in three distinctly different parts of the state: Austin (the capitol and political hub of Texas), San Antonio (the historical and cultural heart of Texas), and Midland (guns, oil, and tumbleweed).
Now, a major reason I moved down here in the first place was because I was convinced to do so by quite a few guys I served with. They’re still some of my best friends and a large reason why I stick around. Yet they constantly like to remind me that I’ll never be a true Texan because I wasn’t born and raised here. I can wear the ostrich boots, drink Shiner, say “ya’ll” and “fixin’ to,” and marry me a big butt, big haired Texas woman, but I’ll still never be considered a true Texan. That’s fine by me, considering I’d get to join the ranks of other non-true Texans like Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, William Travis, the overwhelming majority of the other Alamo defenders (minus the nine Tejanos who were real Texans), Sam Houston, Bush 41 and—dare I say—43, Jerry Jeff Walker, RU contributor Antonio Aguilar, and Kinky Friedman.
It was Davy Crockett’s famous words to his fellow Tennessee legislators that made him such a hero for many non-true Texans, like myself: “You can all go to hell and I will go to Texas.” That’s certainly more attractive than my last words to my Minnesota friends before I hightailed it out of there: “You may all enjoy your hotdish and lutefisk, for I will be eating barbeque and Mexican food.”
That being said, I’ve happily taken the role as an outside observer. I reside here, love this place, and love the people, but I’ll never be one of them. And that’s okay. I’ve come to accept that fact and, trust me; it’s almost as liberating as an alcoholic completing his or her first of the twelve steps.
So what makes a Texan a Texan? Perhaps only they can answer that. Luckily for me, I served in the United States Military, which brought me in contact with more Texans than I can count. And now that I’ve been here a few years I’ve gotten to know even more of them—I even became friends with the awful bastards. I sent out an APB via email asking them—in ONE sentence—what it means to be a Texan.
Here’s a selected list of the responses:
• Apolonio Hernandez: “To me, being a Texan means that I am better than most Americans.”
• Jason Skinner: “Being blessed with being born in the Lone Star State means I’m entitled to tell everyone all the time how much better Texas is.”
• George Armendariz: “It’s a pride that is similar to being a Marine grunt.” (Now, many of you may be thinking my friend George has the tamest comment thus far, but if you know anything about Marine infantrymen, he has just cunningly flexed his pride on two fronts.)
• JR Lyon: “It means I get to be annoying as fuck about being a Texan when I’m drunk and out of state.”
… You get the point.
This is the kind of stuff I’ve been hearing—if you count my enlistment in the Marine Corps—for ten years now. Perhaps the most unabashed example of Texas pride I’ve ever heard came from the most unlikely source.
When I first moved to San Antonio I immediately began a relationship with a woman who, by the end of our relationship, had an eight year old daughter. She was a good kid. The only problem was she had been indoctrinated by the Texas public school system for three years.
My ex had her parents in town from Kansas City one year. Her mother was an English expatriate who had been living in the States for about thirty-five years or so. As we sat around the dinner table, the little one spoke.
“Nanna, why do you talk like that?” She asked.
“What do you mean, darling?” Nanna responded.
“Why do you talk with that funny voice?”
“This is English, darling. I’m speaking it the way English people speak it.”
Then the little girl looked her grandmother straight in the eyes and responded in a snarky tone that only eight year old girls are capable of: “… Well, it’s not Texas-English.”
(To her credit, she managed to avoid saying, “it ‘ain’t’ Texas-English.”)
Most people might get a hearty laugh from this kind of childish retort. Not me. That little girl summed up, in five words, the attitude of every Texan I had ever met in the Marine Corps and, furthermore, inadvertently answered the question, “Why are Texans the way they are?”
You’ll never meet a group of people in the Western World who have been more programmed from day one to regard their home with such reverence. It’s not just the public schools or what they hear in the home, either. The American marketing industry has found it worth spending the extra money to Texify their advertising campaigns in the state. There are little things you’ll notice on numerous consumer products. Copenhagen puts out Texas Edition lids. Dairy Queen ends its radio ditties with, “DQ… that’s what I love about Texas.” Hell, just the other day I saw a Bud Light billboard on the side of the freeway that had the outline of Texas plastered on one of the bottles. That kind of subliminal catering will catch up to someone after a while—leaving them with a superiority complex that could humble a North Korean… or a Marine.
Anyone who has served in the American Armed Forces is fully aware of the Texan presence within it. We can’t avoid that fact even if we wanted to. They’re bigger braggarts about it than John Kerry was about his four Purple Hearts. (At least you can confirm if someone is truly from Texas, though.) However, as the old saying goes, “Perception is reality.” Being constantly bombarded with Texas pride always gave me the idea that they’re the only people in the military who carry a large burden, regarding numbers. Yet we can all agree that Californians also share a large portion of the load. But since you’ll rarely see a Californian outbrag a Texan, it’s hard to break certain long-held beliefs.
The only boastful things you’ll see from Californians is the occasional beach bum with a NorCal bumper sticker and SoCal cholos with LA Dodger symbols tattooed all over their bodies. But then again, I’ve seen plenty of Texas cholos with Dallas Cowboy symbols tattooed across their bodies.
All the same, let’s not beat around the bush, folks. Texans have more to brag about than Californians. The current financial state of Texas is eerily similar to the economic boom Californians enjoyed shortly after WWII. What’s even more eerie is the current amount of Californians flooding into Texas. They’re getting’ the hell out of dodge and, in the process, bringing their voting record with them. (The fact they fucked up an economy with endless potential should alarm all native and non-true, non-Californian Texans alike.) I give it fifty years before we see an exodus of Texas license plates making their way into, I don’t know, North Dakota. I hear Bismarck has some potential.
But I’m stickin’ it out here for the time being. Something about this place has me in a stranglehold. Maybe it’s the drive-thru liquor stores or maybe, just maybe, I’ve found myself in awe of these people.
I suppose I’ll have to accept the fact I’ll be perennially relegated to second-class citizenship in the State of Texas. That’s okay with me, though. I’d rather be an identified observer and friend like Jane Goodall than vainly go undercover and have disastrous results like The Grizzly Man. If I’m ever asked to take a picture of a group of Texans, I’ll do it with an enthusiastic smile.