Is Texas part of the South, or the Southwest, or its own culture?
This is not a border area militia Rick Perry secessionist question. That kind of talk irritates me to no end, almost as much as hearing jokes about Waco and the Branch Davidian compound when I tell people I went to Baylor (sic ‘em Bears and RG3).
I started thinking about this question again over the holidays, as I made black eyed peas for dinner in keeping with the southern tradition. FYI, all-knowing online sources state that black eyed peas and greens on New Year’s Day are a token for prosperity in the year to come, although I’m pretty sure when I was little and asked my mom why we eat them, the answer was “because we do.”
Black eyed peas on New Year’s is a decidedly southern tradition, not solely a Texas one. But I find that since moving to Washington, I don’t often claim to be from the “South.” I make a clear distinction that I’m from Texas and that it’s different from other southern states. I say this not out of Texas pride — I never say things like “everything’s bigger and better in Texas,” I don’t call it God’s Country, and you will never hear me say “hook ‘em Horns.” I am proud of Texas, but I also like a lot of other places I’ve been.
I think I’m making a cultural distinction here. In a lot of ways, Texas isn’t like the rest of the South (the Deep South, which I guess is really more accurately the Southeast). I grew up eating way more tamales and sopaipillas than someone from Georgia or Alabama. And yes, my family actually has a ranch, and my dad, uncle, and grandfather are honest-to-goodness cowboys, though some say that’s a stereotype of Texas. Stereotypes have to come from somewhere, right?
I started making the distinction in my mind that Texas belongs more to the Southwest than the South a few years ago when I was hiking in Tiger Leaping Gorge in northern Yunnan, China, of all places. At a guesthouse in the gorge I met and hung out with a couple from Arizona, and the guy said to me, “You’re from Texas? Then we’re cousins from the Southwest.” (He also later told me he loved me, right in front of his girlfriend, because I was traveling with only a small backpack while she had a large suitcase — but that’s another story, let me get back on track, we’ll talk later about guys who’ve declared their love for me while dating someone else.) That casual comment about the Southwest really caused me to think (you have a lot of time to do that while hiking through a gorge and riding long haul buses across Yunnan), and since that time, I have associated myself as a Texan more with the Southwest than with the South. Maybe that explains part of my reasoning behind wanting to write West Texas Interlude — a desire to head to the desert and deepen my connection with the Southwest.
Yet, there are still some things about Texas that are more southern than not. Like black eyed peas on New Year’s. And Bible Belt culture. And the word y’all. I can’t say that sweet tea is one of those things, though, because you’re just as likely as not to find unsweetened tea in the pitcher in my family’s fridge.