Monday, April 28, 2014

Texas, Explained # 4 : History


5th Grade Version:

Stephen F. Austin, with a band of plucky yet determined pioneers, traveled to central Texas from (various versions Tennessee, Kentucky, or Virginia) in the 1820's to form a colony. This group was peaceful and happy until 1836, when mean ole' Santa Anna, the Mexican general, decided to kick them out. Leaders of the colony rallied, fought 3 quick yet decisive battles - the first, in Gonzales, famous for the flag the colonists made with a picture of a cannon on it that said "Come and Take It" ; the second, at the Alamo in San Antonio, where all the "Texans" who fought bravely were martyred, thus inspiring the motto " Remember the Alamo"; and the third, the Battle of San Jacinto, where General Sam Houston decisively routed the Mexican general Santa Ana during his afternoon siesta.






Grownup (short and overly simplified) Version:

European nations in the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th centuries were engaged in competition for natural resources and land for expanding populations. This caused them to explore the world beyond Europe via water and land. While the battle between Spain and Britain in 1588 may have settled the dominance of the seas issue from the British point of view, pretty much everyone else just went about their business and carved up the Americas, Asia, Micro- and Polynesia, Africa, etc., as they could. Chief colonizers were from Britain, Spain, France, Portugal, and the Netherlands. Long-standing conflicts were established in local areas where European nations formed alliances and enemies - conflicts which exist to this day as the under-pinnings of our current geo-political system. Think Palestine. Rwanda. Vietnam.

Spain and Britain, and occasionally France, continued to fight to determine who would control North America (and the rest of the world.). The French and Indian War / Seven Year's War 1754-1763 and the American Revolution 1875-1783 established Britain, later the Americans, as the winner for the east coast of North America regions. Local wars continued the pattern of being smaller parts of a larger geopolitical power struggle. Spain had a stronghold in the southwest, central and South America. Some French explorers sailed up the Mississippi and into the Hudson Bay and Canada but nobody really cared. As populations grew, each side pushed towards the middle. Texas is where they met.

Texas, geographically, was originally part of New Spain (settled in 1690), and later Mexico (which succeeded from Spain in 1821 in its own revolution). The region was filled with ranches, farms, and small towns; it contained Spanish and native-speaking peoples of Spanish, Native American, and mixed descent. The current borders did not yet exist, and many families owned land on both sides of the Rio Grande River, which is the present day border with Mexico. Stephen F. Austin brought his colony to Texas legally, with a land grant originally awarded to his father. As more Anglo settlers from the USA joined the original "Old Three Hundred" families, the need for more land created conflict with Mexican overlords and prompted the Texas War for Independence. From the Texans' perspective, this war was immediate and personal; Texans felt they "won" but Mexico did not recognize that belief. From the United States of America's perspective, this conflict was part of a larger series of wars over territorial jurisdiction, known as "Manifest Destiny”: the War of 1812 (related tangentially to the Napoleonic Wars), the US- Mexican War of 1845-1847 (also involved in the USA’s internal dispute over free vs slave states), and the Spanish American War of 1896.

Texas, once admitted to the Union, was a slave state, but did not have as strong a farming/plantation economy as more eastern, southern states. It was so remote compared to the rest of the Confederacy that it took months for the slaves in Texas to find out about the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War, which is why "Juneteenth" is a significant African-American holiday in Texas. Small farms and large ranches predominated, with railroads arriving to take cattle to markets in Chicago and St. Louis in the 1870-1880's. Oil was discovered in the 1920's. Military bases sprang up in the wake of WWII. NASA arrived in the 1960's. Recent cycles of boom and bust in the US economy have driven huge swells of population to Texas, searching for jobs and a better life. Throughout it all, the culture of Texas has encouraged a "hands off" attitude reminiscent of the old Wild Wild West - seen today in the Texas approach to taxes, government, and laws in general.



 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The "princess-ification" of girls




This has got to stop right now ! I mean it ! Yeah, you.....hey, YOU ! Raising your daughter to think she can be a princess when she grows up is sending her the wrong message. Princesses are helpless bimbos, always stuck in some silly situation, who have to be rescued by making friends, finding themselves, acting adorably cute, or finding true love from the prince. Princesses value looks and pretty dresses over strong character or real life skills such as intelligence, hard work, integrity, or kindness. Princesses think it's all about them.....that the world will do their bidding if they are just pretty enough. 

Case in point #1 : Extended family welcomed first female baby in generations . Much arguing ensued over the all-pink, all-princess-y toys one side of the fam insisted on gifting said child as it was growing up. Child now pre-teen, is spoiled unrealistic self-centered brat. What are you teaching a young person about role models when the only options you provide are stuffed unicorns, tiaras, magic fairy wands, tea party sets, make-up, feather boas, and pink dress-up dresses? Whose fantasy of little girlhood is being served - yours, or your child's ? Whatever happened to "Doctor Barbie", toy horses, farm sets, tricycles, sand boxes with shovels and spades, doll houses, rocking horses, zoo animals, play houses, cowboys/cowgirls, building blocks, art and craft supplies, toy cars, games, puppets - the list goes on and on. In colors other than, and in addition to,  pink?

Case in point #2: I am now teaching the first wave of teens who were raised this way. Young women aged 14-18 these days do not know how to : look an adult in the eye, ask a question, wait their turn, explain something, talk about the subject matter at hand or their own lives, problem solve, take initiative for anything - without simpering and acting coyly babyish. On a 3 year old, this has been viewed as cute, and encouraged. On a 17 year old it is not functional. 

The princessification of America is what has created the whole "Bridezilla" phenomenon. 

You may think "feminism" means a bunch of strident lesbians shouting about bring down the man. Like anything depicted in the media, this is a caricatured stereotype and unfair to both lesbians and women who are straight. Feminism is a social movement that historically allowed women in the USA to vote, have access to their own money, a bank account in their own name not their husband's, and pushes now for equality in the workplace and health care. 

Think about your own life and those of your friends.....how many of you have learned, maybe the hard way as I have, that ultimately you have to take care of yourself - not depend on anyone else? How many of you have learned that to keep a job, manage your finances, keep your family together, and your life going - you have to have adult social and problem solving skills? Where are children / teens going to learn them, if not from you ? Everyone has to function in the real world, in real world ways. I am not saying burst little girls fantasies....I am saying, provide them with a range of  role models, skills and options. Encourage them in age appropriate interactions with you. Have them practice speaking to adults, shaking hands, looking peopkle in the eyes, and speaking clearly not coyly. young girls and young boys need to learn to have confidence, speak for themselves, and trust their own minds. If you don't shape them in the way you want them to do this, someone else will.

Texas, Explained # 3 : Religion





The media, always looking for something to create a "newsworthy" story and generate buzz, loves to fill the airwaves/internet with those bizarre religious cults that often live in Texas, the American south, or the midwest. Outsiders hear a lot about David Koresh, the Branch Davidians, "drink the koolade, man"; the Westboro Baptist Church; that crazy ignoramus on the Texas Education committee for textbook selection , a dentist I think, who doesn't believe in evolution and is always willing to provide a non-intentionally humorous soundbite as to why he should be the deciding factor in science book selection for the entire nation; tele- evangelists such as Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker or Joel Olsteen; or any other number of hustlers, crazies, salesmen, ignoramuses, con-men, crooks, extremists and carnies out there.



Here are some ideas for your consideration:

1)Media always picks up on the crazies and provides them endless free promotion, for the simple fact that their controversial pronouncements garner attention and thus increase ratings

2)Don't believe everything to hear or see in the media - that includes me

3)There was once a very interesting news article in Texas Monthly - I have searched in vain for it in the years since, but it came out before the digital era and I just can't track it down - that went something like this : Texas is roughly divided in half, laterally, with the Baptist/Evangelical faiths/culture having more adherents in the northern half of the state, the Catholic faith having more adherents/culture in the southern half of the state. This one simple idea explains why the northern half of the state was "dry" (until very recently, did not sell alcohol in bars or restaurants or stores, except in very limited places), and the southern half of the state was "wet"(freely sold alcohol everywhere.) While the booze rules may have changed in recent years, the culture that goes along with the underlying attitudes remains the same: northern half is more conservative, southern half is more liberal. Dallas is considered one of the buckles on the Bible belt - neighborhoods there are zoned so that schools and churches are not near bars and sketchy parts of town. Houston has no zoning at all and is a free-for-all of religions, bars, and homes. Even today, the northern half of the state is dominated by conservative industries: banking, finance and retail; while the southern half of the state has more risk-taking industries :oil and energy industries, world-class medical centers, most of the unvisities in the state.

4)Here is some actual data about the percentage of folk in various faiths, comparing Texas to the rest of America. It's not nearly as scary as the media would suggest.
http://www.texasalmanac.com/topics/religion

Friday, April 25, 2014

Texas, Explained # 2: Politics







No one person can really explain Texas politics. I'm not arrogant or foolish enough to try. What I can do is provide readers with some of the best sources that exist.  Steer you in the right direction. For your reading pleasure:

1)Molly Ivins is a national treasure : smart, funny, irreverent, suffering no fools. She started as a journalist and finished as a goddess. Literally. I had the pleasure of hearing her speak a few years before she died, and was amazed in her presence: she was 7 feet tall with red hair, hilarious, captivating, angry, scary, hypnotic and charming. A real life Athena, goddess of wisdom. Read anything by her and it will be time well spent.....Below she weighs in our our governor.
http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2011/08/rick-perry-molly-ivins

2)Do you think people in this country just show up and vote.....that votes,and thus politicians, simply, mathematically, represent clear majorities and minorities - the voice of the people? Well, in that case, I've got some swampland I'd like to sell you..... In the USA we have a "winner take all" political system....voting districts are configured by the political party in power to ensure that party's candidate wins. Read further:
http://www.slate.com/blogs/weigel/2014/04/24/the_south_white_black_voting_and_gerrymandering_in_two_maps.html

3)For good or for evil, due to its sheer size in population, Texas holds undue sway over this country:
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/10/books/review/as-texas-goes-by-gail-collins.html?_r=0

4)Why do Southerners, Texans, and the shrinking middle class vote against their own best interests?
http://www.oxfordamerican.org/articles/2012/oct/09/book-review-deer-hunting-jesus/

5)The best journalism commentary both positive and negative, about Texas:
http://www.texasmonthly.com/content/fifty-best-texas-books-august-1981

6)One president from Texas, and his legacy : LBJ
http://millercenter.org/president/lbjohnson/essays/biography/9

7)More Presidents "from" Texas (remember, they really aren't) : the Bush family, George the father and George W the son
http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/jamie-stiehm/2012/04/09/the-bush-family-an-american-tragedy

8)The best governor of Texas, so far, in my lifetime:
http://www.texasobserver.org/ann-richards-legacy/

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Texas, Explained # 1 : The Basics



Texas, like any other place on this earth, is complicated. It is so large- France is only 2/3 the size of Texas - that it contains wide diversity in its geography, climes, cultures, religions, social classes, and ethnicities. Just as with any other vast sprawling land, you can't summarize it in only a few words. Our media saturated world depicts cliched images of cowboys, oil rigs, rednecks, beauty queens, football, sprawling cities, monster trucks, rodeos, astronauts, movie stars, oil magnates. Think about where you live : is there a stereotype? Is it true for everyone? Movies about Texas simplify and romanticize various aspects : "Giant", "Urban Cowboy", "Steel Magnolias", "Friday Night Lights", "Dallas", "Last Picture Show", "Hope Floats" and other popular iconic images abound.



Recently, while traveling through Europe with a large group of Canadians, Greeks, Brits, and companions of other nationalities, many questions were asked of me as to what Texas is like, and what it is like to live here. My students were repeatedly asked if we ride horses to school every day, dress like cowboys, live on ranches, are rich from oil wells. My first answer is always : Dallas is hot, flat, brown, and ugly.
Urban vs Rural
Like many places in the United States, Texas was once a largely rural society, containing farms and ranches and dotted with small towns. It was not that much different from Ohio, California, Maine, Florida, Virginia, or Germany , Italy, or England - just hotter. Waves of immigrants came to Texas in the 1600's-1900's, just as they did to other parts of the new world: Spanish, French, English, German, Vietnamese, and Mexican peoples filled the land.

In the 20th century, Texas has grown at break-neck pace - due to the arrival of railroads at the end of cattle trails in the 1880's, discovery of oil in the 1920's, placement of military bases in the 1940's, invention of air conditioning in the 1950's, building of NASA in the 1960's. Our cities have exploded in population seemingly over night, and like much of America, the small towns and rural areas are shrinking in population at a rapid rate, as the cities grow. There are entire counties (governmental regions larger than small European nations) that do not have a store, or doctor, or school of their own, but must consolidate together and share these important services - due to population decreases. Because Texas is mostly flat lands and rolling prairie, there are no impediments to city geographical size, such as mountains or rivers. The cities in Texas sprawl outward, not upward, which makes them more like Los Angeles than New York. Texas contains four cities that are in the "Top Ten" of American cities, by population : Houston, San Antonio, Dallas/Ft Worth, and Austin. The triangle formed by these cities is now classified a megalopolis, much like the eastern seaboard of the US (Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore, New York, Boston.)

Because we have a traditional history that is rural, and because the distances are so great, and because our large population has been large only in the past 50 years, the cities in Texas are only connected at this point in time by highways/interstates/freeways, not by trains or other mass transit. (There is talk of a French style bullet train from Dallas to Houston....) Everyone drives, and we live in a"car culture".



Climate
Most of Texas has a hot, dry, arid climate. It is very similar to southern Italy, France, Spain or Greece. Not as temperate as the Mediterranean regions, and colder (windy, dry, ice in the winters) in the northern half of the state. Hot and moist and humid along the coast. Sunny more often than not. It's very similar to southern California - only not as pretty. It could be as charming as the south of France, if only we knew how to live the way the French do. But we don't.



Lifestyle
Texas is considerably less expensive to live in than most places in the USA or western world (My friends often say, "The only place cheaper is Oklahoma, and no one wants to live there."). As I say, most of Texas is hot , flat, brown and ugly - but the cost of living is so cheap, you can have a large home, drive a nice car, and blast the air conditioning in both, all the day long. Jobs are plentiful; we barely noticed the last great recession, and our real estate is bouncing back.(No, I am not a business person, real estate agent, member of any chamber of commerce or "booster" of any kind.) Everything is cheaper in Texas than on either the east or the west coast of America : homes, gas, food, home heating/cooling, taxes, etc. It has to be  cheap to lure folks here, due to the climate. (Think : India during the Raj.) People have a lot of extra money to shop and travel, and that's pretty much what they do.



Travel
Texans love to get away, when we can. Our favorite places : Colorado and New Mexico - higher elevation, drier cooler climate, beautiful green mountains, skiing in winter, snow. New Orleans : a 400 year old city full of  Southern gothic charm and fabulous restaurants, the Mississippi . South Padre Island : beaches, sun and surf. Thanks to DFW airport,many wonderful places are just a hop-sip-and a-jump short flight away : the Caribbean, NYC......