The children’s eyes, wide and bright at first, narrowed and darkened with every answer I made. Do you ride to school? I shook my head. Do you wear a cowboy hat and boots every day? Do not. But everyone has guns, right? I sighed heavily. I’m 15 years old and I’ve been in the Philippines for less than three days, and I’m used to these questions from my extended family and other friends and neighbors who hear “Visit from Texans.” From 8,000 miles away, the shadow of my hometown looms.
This is always the case when we travel. Here, in my mother’s hometown. Or Belize, Australia, United Kingdom. Are you from Texas? Then quickly took me in. My hair is black and straight and my skin is brown. Hoop earrings instead of cowboy hats and chanclas instead of boots. I don’t like guns. I still don’t. Every day I ride the black Impala to school and leave my horses at home (yes, we have them – a nod to the image).
My family added Spanish and Tagalog to our English: I’m like n’ombre, that’s chafas. oops! No oil derricks, no tumbleweeds, no big-haired Dallas blondes. People will shrug and be disappointed. Texas, a part of me ashamed, mine Texas, doesn’t live up to their mythology.
This is about Texas, all of you: those images that we relentlessly spread to the rest of the world, those legends and stories about this place, the same images, legends that we Texans tell ourselves and stories. We are cowboys and feral cats, big dreamers who make things happen; fierce independence and provocation in the face of overwhelming odds. For better or worse, we are all aware of the burden of this myth in our lives and, in our own little ways, work to fulfill it.
Texas writers are no exception. Just look at the literature that traces — and is often mercilessly torn apart — the myth of the Lone Star State. Larry McMurtry. Cormac McCarthy. James Michener. American Paredes. Katherine Anne Potter. The list goes on.Whether it’s McMurtry’s ruthless elegy for aging cowboys and law enforcement officers lonely pigeon; Paredes’ gentle and damning depiction of life on the banks of the Rio Grande George Washington Gomez; or the dusty Southwest frontier, full of ambition and cruelty, in McCarthy’s Old Men, The state of Texas depicted in these novels is where outsiders see, absorb, and increase their perception of the place.
For those of us with different versions of Texans — who speak other languages, come from different backgrounds, or grew up in corners that are rarely depicted in Texan literature and film — it’s another way of making us feel like outsiders , even in a state twice as big as Germany’s.
I’ve lived in Texas my whole life and I know it better than anywhere else on earth, but I avoid it like the plague at work. I thought, no one wants to read my Texas.
When I read these books a few years ago, I perused them looking for something familiar. These are award-winning, world-famous novels about my family; I can certainly find something relevant. I did it. Everywhere I mentioned towns, highways, waterways, accents or phrases or rituals I knew. But none completely captured my understanding of Texas. I’m a young writer and Texan with dreams of publishing around the world, which discourages me. We are told and re-informed to the world; what more can be said? Another book set here is just a small voice in the roar of the crowd – a crowd with multiple Pulitzer Prizes.
Is there room for me in all this? I was going to ask. I’m here, we’re here, can’t we be Texas too?
I fear the answer is no. So I spent years writing anything and everywhere else. In my first undergraduate seminar, I presented a story set in the Philippines. I wrote another about a would-be writer moving to New York – I firmly believe that all writers have to live at some point in order to be successful. I have a city set up in Guadalajara where I spent a summer. I’ve lived in Texas my whole life and I know it better than anywhere else on earth, but I avoid it like the plague at work. I thought, no one wants to read my Texas. No one will believe it.
Here’s one last thing about Texas, all of you: We’re just one big state made up of millions of small places.
As the years passed, I read more and more, more and more. At some point, the wind changed and the tide changed. If I were writing my own story, I would have an epiphany here. A smart professor, a sharp-eyed workshop friend, my parents’ words. Someone saw me clearly struggling and said, Enough, Kim. But no lightning strikes. I realized it was a slow and subtle shift in understanding: I was surrounded by writers writing themselves.
Many Books I Love – Sandra Cisneros’ mango street house, Oscar Casares Brownsville, even the great gatsby Or the story of Nick Adams – the writers paint what they saw, what they experienced or are still experiencing, their own people and hometowns. We are in literature, They write. Read us, see us. Fearless, bold, arrogant. I can too, can’t I? What could be more Texas?
So the Texas story doesn’t really portray Filipino immigrants like my mother, who was a nurse who moved from the panhandle to the valley to the Gulf Coast and held her own, or looked closely like my father did Today’s complex Tejanos identity. so long. So I have yet to see a novel that fully depicts Galveston, where I was born, an island of diversity, history and tragedy, or Uwald, where I grew up, sandwiched between the southern Texas border and river-lined mountains.
As such, none of the beloved Texan characters look or sound like me. so what? I will not identify with our myths and legends; I will subvert them. I can’t write “Texas,” but I can write Galveston, Uwald, Rio Grande Valley. I know the corner. My relatives in the Philippines or friends abroad may have never heard of it. I can’t write under the weight of Texas mythology, so I completely ignore it.
Carly finally admitted that something was wrong, and that day her grandmother brought home a whole pomfret and tried to eat it raw. That was the first sentence I wrote about Galveston, a fragment of a story I would put on hold for years until I drew it again in 2014, and nothing else. It became the heart of my novel—a novel about Galveston, Uwald, Brownsville, yes. About Texas.
I don’t know about bullock carts or oil derricks, but I know what it’s like to walk into a green river as cold as its name Frio, loses its footing on cypress roots and mossy rocks beneath the surface, but rushes forward no matter what. As I climb trees with my sister, I know mesquite bark bites on palms and under knees, or baby oil slid down our heels and ankles to remove tar that washes up from Galveston beaches. I know the smell of Highway 83 South in the heat of summer and how to spot some state trooper vehicles parked a mile away on caliche road.I know how to smile at the border checkpoint in Sarita when I’m asked Are you American? I know my mother’s voice, how she used to stifle her accent as much as possible when responding, Yes, sir. These are elements of Texas, elements of Texans. I am going to write them.
Here’s one last thing about Texas, all of you: We’re just one big state made up of millions of small places. Neighborhoods become towns and cities become counties and districts. Meeting your football coach at HEB or getting stuck in traffic on I-35 is as much a part of the saga as vaqueros and tumbleweeds. That’s the irony and promise of this place. Everyone has a corner of Texas, and every corner is us.
As for the myths of the place, beloved columnist and author Molly Ivans wrote: “The more the corpse tries to bust all the silly myths about Texas by telling the truth, the more myths the corpse will eventually add. “McMurtry, McCarthy and I — it turns out there’s plenty of room in the myth for all of us.
Kimberly Garza The last karankavas Now available from Henry Holt.