I entered Texas yesterday realizing how every time I come here I am different and how Texas, if it were a person probably is too. I would say we’ve grown apart. Or to be more accurate, I’ve learned how very different Texas always was and I am just in some ways catching up.
You see, in my mind I don’t believe I had all the information and went about my youth largely in a fog about why all the animosity? Amid all the genteel southern hospitality and the almost regal Spanish politesse there lay a seething antagonism, antipathy, between Anglo and “Hispanic”. Along with the complete dismissiveness of anything plebeian, otherwise known as “Mexican”. Of course, never ever mentioned was the “Indio “, except in the romanticized version depicted by Tonto and the Lone Ranger or the strong silent type dominating TV shows in the early 60’s who could communicate large messages in a few hand flicks of sign language. It’s not hard to understand why much of Texan society in the Rio Grande Valley tends to operate in two-dimensional caricatures passing for a life. For Anglos, status is not important because, well, they have it and if you’re not White, you don’t. It doesn’t alter all the other class antagonisms that are a feature of society, White or not, if you’re White, you are afforded a little more leeway in most things. For “Hispanics”, everything seems to revolve around status; from how close to White you are to what kind of title you have, from what neighborhood you come. There is a pecking order many seem to be much more clearly aware about than I ever seemed to notice.
The Texas I’ve come to know seems far divorced from its formal history, which of course I received as part of my public schooling. The more accurate truth is that our history began with a lie.
No, everything you probably heard did actually happen, Cortéz did come to Mexico and the “Aztec” empire (another term distortion) was defeated by a few hundred Spaniards and 500 years later, here we are with South Texas “Hispanics” and “Anglos” (what? You thought the problem with terms only applies to one and not the other?) all playing nice and hatin’ at the same time. It’s the problem with the truth. It can hide the lies so well. First, the Aztecs. . . .
You know, before you know it, you start into full professor mode and, well, maybe I’d like to do that sometme but I don’t really want t do book reports about history here. Odyssey goin’ on. It’s more about trials and tribulations.
I’m writing here as I am a bit more replenished (not really refreshed) recognizing that my trials have mostly been about tribulation. And how my origins seem to have deeply affected every way I’ve connected to the world. I don’t mean to impy I’m any different than others, but I do believe that the social context of our existence does affect our personal history. Being a Chicano (yes, a deliberate choice of identity) growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s, I believe, had a profound effect on every way I’ve intersected in the world. Anger and hurt are mostly situated in our core personal experiences. Although such experiences might explan much, the social context of “status” and class and identity, the one foisted onto us by circumstances, has a powerful influence on everything we think and how we walk in the world (I think S. deBeauvior and F. Fanon had much to say about these things). The question is how do we grow beyond it.
That, I think is my quest; for this part of the Odyssey at any rate.
Of Triggers and The Impulse to Expect Rejection
I struggle with the concept of “triggers”. It’s not that I don’t understand how previous hurts can unwittingly guide our responses to new situations where we find ourselves vulnerable. If we have often felt shamed when we were seeking acceptance, it shouldn’t be surprising that we’ll react expecting some kind of rejection. Sometimes actively seeking it out because it is what we’ve come to understand and to expect. It somehow serves us. It can be uncomfortable, but it is more familar than actual or healthy acceptance. Even more so difficult to understand that one can honestly interact with you with no real malice; dislike what you are doing but not necessarily dislike you. As a student of children, I do understand how that is what so many of us have experienced in our early lives. It’s one thing to understand, quite another to learn more healthy responses; especially when you don’t always know what those responses ought to be.
But to call such activating events of learned poor reactions, “triggers”, sounds too much like we are all loaded guns waiting to shoot with deadly force. When you’re a gun, your life is destined in some way to shoot. And kill. I refuse to think that being a gun is all we’re meant to be, even in a world as violent as this one. In any case, if we create methaphors about ourselves as destructive weapons, it seems difficult to make the case for how we should care about each other. Or, more to the point, how we can learn to act differently than to be a gun. . . . .Yeah, I know, still professor mode. Sorry.
Chicanos in Texas have a distinct biological and related cultural characteristic; we are the product of rape, hated in history for neither being “pure” European nor pure Indian, I hope you note the utter contradiction in calling Europeans or native indigenous people pure. It is both a contradiction and a conceit; a way to create and maintain a hierarchy of social status. After all, if you’re a product of rape, it’s not easy for your parents to see you clearly, even in the best intentions. And it is even more complex than one might see at first “blush” (sic). Among us rape children there are those of us actually closer to one or the other progenitor. In some contexts there are even color schemes of dark to light. All of that is written in our psyches if not our DNA. The history of South Texas in particular is marked by usurpation of indigenous cultures, the colonization first of Spanish colonists and then subsequently European Anglos expropriating the land, not from native peoples but from descendants of Spanish colonialism who had colonized the land and its people. Layers upon layers of theft and outright murder, all for the sake of making use of land that others before them hadn’t “productively” enabled its capacity.
There are of course historical landmarks, the wars of Mexican independence from Spain, the war for Texas “independence”, the Mexican War, and, finally the unheralded, barely recorded ethnic cleansing of South Texas from 1915 to 1920 (there are many good works about this history, one is B. Johnson Revolution In Texas). What some people consider the orgins of Mexicans beginning to consider themselves Americans, hence, “Mexican-Americans” or, in my case like many of my youth, Chicano. It is this history that has had its psycho-historical impact on how people of the “Valley” have grown up.
Upon entering Texas this time, I realize that this journey is in truth a journey to a new world albeit ancient in its origins. Marked by its past and only dimly understood by all of us who came from this world.
I am mindful how my travel here is new, but ultimately the most important, not because of a new insight into history but because of a growing insight into myself. It’s tough when your tribulations requre not redemption but compassion for the anger in your soul and empathy for the pain in your heart. That your trials have never been the ones you have experienced but what you have to learn to overcome what they have taught you.