No one ever really leaves Texas, not really. I think the same can be said about New York City, another place that has come to define me. New York is a place I traveled to, found myself in and learned to call home. Texas, with all of its madness and beauty, is the site of all that can’t be bought, can’t be discarded. I tell people that Hwy 281 from San Antonio to my hometown of Alice is my church. I have solved countless problems on long stretches of that lonely road and there, I reconnect with the part of me that is part of the infinite.
But my relationship with Texas has been troubled at best. The Texas of my childhood was fiercely racist and I knew early on that my future lay elsewhere. Even so, I returned, often, and my relationship to my home state grew and changed over the years.
Texas remains a deeply troubling place, anyone who reads the news can see that. From violent border rhetoric, to a Texas Miracle that obscures the multitude who toil for the lowest wages, to a growing wealth divide. And to many Latinos, our stories, perspectives and history continue to be defined as foreign, not intrinsic to the Texas story. The Other.
Even worse, such notions begin to affect a person’s mind. I can only describe it as something akin to chronic pain. It begins to define a person’s thinking, shape their world, limit their horizons. It is a quiet but still violent relentless battle with high stakes–a person’s very spirit.
I do believe that at its root though, this Othering, along with the multitude of ideological battles that make headlines draw power from the Texas myth. Like the stories we tell about ourselves, our myths explain our lives and then define and confine them.
As you may remember this is an issue that I explored in-depth in my PBS film, Against Mexico: the Making of Heroes and Enemies.
Beginning in January 2015, I found a small space within the pages of The Texas Observer to grapple with, report on and confront the nexus of myth and the world we create and defend. That space, a column, is called: Greater State.
The Texas myth narrates our past and often defines our present, informing seemingly rational decisions. Powerful stories convince us to vote against our self-interests and shape whom we believe we can love. We can see our Texas narrative reflected in policy, politics and policing.
I believe though that myth offers opportunity. After all, myths define our aspirations and notions of what and who we can be and how far we can rise. A Greater State refers to the state at-large and our humanity, our higher selves. It is a call to to rise above, to overcome mental limitations, to redefine horizons and stories. And that includes my own.
After years of reporting on Texas but keeping my distance, I had to choose whether to become a prisoner of my tales or revisit them, with matured eyes and wisdom. I decided to return to Texas. With that mission in mind, I inaugurate this column. Bylines and mastheads remain woefully unreflective of our Texas, but the folks at the Observer have invited me to contribute to a change. I will explore the state of our state with a focus on defining the myths and stories that shape our politics and policies, but that can also inspire us to undertake the path to a greater self, a greater state.
I hope you drop by from time to time to check in on me and this journey and study. Your suggestions and thoughts are always appreciated.