COLUMN: Conversations about Texas are bigger

A look at why people who are from the Lone Star State love telling you why they are
Monday, July 5, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 6:12 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 5, 2010

Someone asked me again today. It's like they can smell the horse they think I rode in on.

“Where in Texas are you from?”

While filling my car up with gas, I was surprised, as I always am, that the man asking this question could miraculously tell I am a Lone Star. I say "y'all" at least 50 times a day, but I had not said it in his presence. I didn't mention the Spurs or the Cowboys, and I was not listening to ZZ Top. I didn't request that he "Remember the Alamo." I do not own cowboy boots, and my moccasins do not have spurs. As a vegetarian, I don't eat red meat. I did not so much as hint at secession. I drive a Prius, not a pick-up (though to be fair, I have to admit that I used to — it's a long story).

That Prius does, however, have Texas plates. Oops.

This question is asked of me at least twice a month, and the reason behind it is usually more subtle than my license plates. Somehow, as if they have some incredibly worthless sixth sense, Midwesterners always seem to be able to tell that I am not really one of them. If that sense is heightened, they can even tell that I am Southern. If that is the case, I must be Texan. But they always know.

The same thing goes for other Texans, for whom the sense is more innate. This man actually was driving a truck, and even before I answered "San Antonio," I would have bet money he was from Houston.

"Cool." He rolled his window all the way down. "I'm from Texas, too — from Houston. I'm feeling you." And with that, he drove off.

The best part of the entire encounter is that between two Texans, this was a completely normal conversation. Despite the fact that I am 16 hours from my home city and he is 12 from his, we developed a bond in front of gas pump No. 1 that can never be broken. I feel absolutely certain that were some woodland animal questioning my loyalty or otherwise trying to harm me, he would shoot it. We Texans are always feeling (for) one another.

I love that my birth certificate was printed in Texas and that I lived there for 17 years. I love arguing about barbecue and publicly shaming people who say "San Antone." (Just try me.) When I make jokes about my home state seceding from the rest of the nifty 50, I am not always 100 percent certain I'm joking. But as I write this, MapQuest tells me I am exactly 858.49 miles from my former home and from other people who, like me, could never refer to Taco Bell as "Mexican food" without laughing or crying.

Why then am I 515 words into a column about being from Texas that was supposed to be about how movies were cooler when I was younger? The answer: I'm from Texas. The naked truth is that about 95 percent of the time I expound on the country's most self-referential state, it has absolutely nothing to do with what my friends or some complete strangers were actually discussing. It's a well-known fact that people from Texas like to talk about being from Texas, and I think I might finally have worked out the reason why.

Texas is needy. It is as all-consuming of its citizens' identities as the Cookie Monster is of round, chocolate-chip-flavored discs. The state's pop cultural significance is based almost entirely on the fact that it could be independent if it wanted to, but I think we also need to feel that way. (I also just noticed I'm comfortable referring to Texas as "we.") We tell ourselves that if on some whim we wanted to become our own country, we could, despite the fact that the economics involved don't look so good. 

I've even known people who have polarizing opinions on how our new country name would further our independence if we did. I can remember a conversation in which "Texawesome" was the winning moniker. "Texasassi-nation" was also suggested — and promptly ignored — by an outsider making an unappreciated crack about the state's capital punishment rates. Now that I think about it, there were not a lot of great options.

But regardless of how attached you are to the Union and whether you like the rodeo, the truth is that Texas needs you more than you need it. Uncle Sam wants you, but Texas needs you — for statistical purposes, for tax revenue and for use in perpetuating the unofficial state slogan "Don't mess with Texas." This is why natives, myself included, feel the need to pepper conversation with less-than-casual references to the cities and state in which we were born. This is also why you don't hear many Oregonians doing the same.

Culturally, we find some sort of meaning in being linked to one another, even if it means being tied to the same stereotypes. Which is why every time someone asks me that question, I respond with, "Yes, I'm from San Antonio, where the Alamo is." I'm pretty sure most people know where the Alamo is, and I'm pretty sure most people don't care, but I find meaning in that. The man at the gas station needed to know if I'm from Texas so that he could subconsciously decide whether he would save me if a one-eyed, one-horned flying purple people eater descended from the overhead lights. And I know he would. Because I would, too. But I hope that doesn't happen.

Don't mess with Texans.

Kelsey Whipple is the deputy editor of Vox. She has never in her life used the word "howdy" in any kind of seriousness. "Hello" is a completely acceptable substitute. "Hey, y'all" is also fine.


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Lindsay Cochrum July 6, 2010 | 9:39 a.m.

Beautiful, Kelsey. I totally feel you.

I'm out in Colorado this summer working at the YMCA of the Rockies with college students from all over the country. There's a significant group from Texas A&M here, so I immediately felt the need to bond with them, even if my wardrobe consists of a fair number of Mizzou T-shirts. I consistently confuse people here when they ask me where I'm from because I proudly declare that I'm from Arlington, ("It's between Dallas and Fort Worth, where the new Cowboys stadium is.") and they assume I go to A&M. So then I have to add the disclaimer that I GO to Mizzou, but I'm FROM Texas. Even though I've spent 80% of the past three years in Missouri.

(Report Comment)
Thresa Matthews July 6, 2010 | 11:39 a.m.

Our nationalism--Texas nationalism, that is--is one of my favorite things about being a Texan. It's like being a member of an exclusive club. Or, maybe it's more like belonging to a huge family. I feel like I'm among relatives at any gathering in Texas and feel like a fish out of water when I'm elsewhere.

There's a considerable amount of hostility towards us within the states, though I've never encountered hostility abroad (except in France, but they're mean to everyone). I think that explains some of our defensiveness.

It is absolutely true that Texans gravitate toward each other when out of pocket (out of Texas)and tend to stick up for each other just on the basis of that shared bond.

I like being a Texan--I confess I have a marked preference for the breed.

I like that Texas has ten different climate zones, and 111 different soil types and spans two time zones and has three languages.

But unlike the author of this article (which I thoroughly enjoyed,)I do NOT believe that Texas needs the United States. The United States needs Texas!

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