September 24, 2013

Three-ish Flags Over Texas

Like many things Texan the phrase “Six Flags Over Texas” is a bit larger than life and kinda overstated. Yes, throughout history six different flags have flown over different parts of what is now the loud-n-proud U.S. state of Texas; Spain, France, Mexico, Texas itself, The Confederate States, and the United States have all been there and done that. But if we’re talking in broader terms, I count three real claimants: Spain/Mexico, Texas, and the United States. Not to sound cliche or perpetuate a stereotype--both French words--but France doesn’t really matter here except as an intermittent nuisance.
Essentially, the history of Texas has been a relay race run by the aforesaid powers-- a tamale, T-bone steak, and cheeseburger bumbling from third to home at the bottom of the sixth. They’re not completely unique or drastically different foods. The steak will forever feign disgust of the others’ cheese, but they’ve all got the same meat. I’ll nevertheless treat them as such so y’all can read a better-structured narrative.

All the photos with flags have three too many for some reason.

1. El trabajo de los Tamales

We all know nothing in America existed before white people got there, so we only have to go back 500 years to tell Texas’s beginnings. Early European settlement of the general area was a li’l back-and-forth between Spain and France. Given that today about 30 percent of the state speaks Spanish, you can guess who Juan that battle. Spaniards mixed and mingled with the millions of brown people they conquered. (Apparently, there were already people there!) This mass coalescence effectively begat two classes: an elite group of White Haves, and the vast majority of not-as-white Have Nots.
All involved were Spanish-speaking Roman Catholics. The global Spanish Empire, the first one on which “the sun never set,” was great at making that happen; and it was even better at sending unholy amounts of gold and silver home to Spain. It did these things to the envy of the rest of Europe from 1492 clear into the 1800s, inspiring all the European empires that followed. But did it manage stable and responsible governments, whether at home or in the colonies? Yeah... sure, in the same way that Jeffrey Skilling was a stable and responsible manager of Enron.
So when Napoleon Bonaparte became President and CEO of France, New Spain was not long for this world. First he let America make the bargain-basement Louisiana Purchase, kinda sorta throwing in some Spanish land. (Yes, Thomas Jefferson. 1803. AP US History.) But his ten-year strategy for growth and a greater market share entailed a corporate takeover of Europe, in which Spain became a big sticking point. Though España had rotated in and out of Chapter 11, it still had shiny metallic assets Napoleon kinda really needed. The icing on the cake for him was a chance to oust the Bourbon royalty, a family he had been happy to see recently expunged from France.
Why does this matter to Texas? Well, as France was busy spreading La Révolution and sending Spain’s stock into the gutter, Mexico thought it wise to split. They stated as much on 16 September 1810, and Mexico now celebrates this as its Independence Day-- not Cinco de Mayo, though that date will come up later. So just as the U.S. celebrates 1776 but wasn’t free till 1783, Mexico’s spin-off deal took till 1821 to close. Mexico, which then encompassed Texas and the other Southwestern United States, was not alone in splitting from Spain. Almost all of Spanish-speaking Central and South America broke free at this time. It was no longer part of New Spain, but Mexico was still poorly structured and managed. And unlike the rest of née New Spain, Mexico faced the unenviable challenge of bordering the eagerly expanding United States. Nonetheless needing money, the new country swiftly invited any and all empresarios, literally ‘entrepreneurs’, to set up shop in its northeast regional market, aka Coahuila y Tejas. The very first of these enterprising immigrants was a Virginian who brought 300 other American families with him. His name was “Stone Cold” Stephen F. Austin.

2. “How do I want my steak? Bleeding.”

Despite everyone talking about learning from history there are very few hard-and-fast rules to learn, but this is certainly one: Never invite foreigners into your country to just help out for a bit. They will become a problem. The severity of that problem will vary, but if your guests are stronger, richer or more numerous than you, you’ll soon be theirs: c.f. Anglo-Saxon England, Qing Dynasty China, and the diplomatically-worded origin story of Russia where the Slavs “invited” the Rus Vikings to come rule them. Incidentally, one of the only other hard-and-fast rules of history emerged after this: Never invade Russia, especially not in winter.
Thus, Mexico’s invitation to their fiesta soon became a desastre. Before the 1821 empresarial invitation, only 3,500 people lived in Tejas. On the eve of Texan Independence in 1836, the population was 30,000 Anglos with 5,000 slaves stacked against about 8,000 Mexicans. These English-speaking Protestants would be damned before, if?, they spoke Spanish and followed the Pope. These immigrants didn’t speak the language, weren’t even trying to assimilate, and were taking all the jobs and land. So during this fifteen-year flood, Mexico tried to slow, restrict, and then abolish Anglo settlement as well as slavery. Legally and illegally, Anglos rich and poor kept settling in this part of Mexico. The rich slaveholders technically obeyed abolition by making their slaves sign contracts as “indentured servants for life,” laden with unpayable and heritable debt. To their credit, in strictly the financial sense, cotton was king and cattle was maybe like an earl.
Remember that the foundation of Mexican government was colonial Spanish government, which government Napoleon had rocked into regional juntas ten years ago by... rocking Spain into regional juntas. The success of the American Revolution and Constitution 30ish years prior was inspiring several failed imitators. One of which was the First French Republic that Napoleon militarized and made an empire. Another was the United Mexican States (1824-1835) that General Santa Anna militarized and made an empire.
But contrary to his present infamy, Santa Anna was not always the enemy. Both Steve Austin and Santa Anna had drummed up troops to repel a Spanish attempt at reconquest. Only Santa Anna’s actually fought, and his victory made him a hero in Mexico. Following this, Austin supported him as a check to redress grievances with the mismanaged federal government re: Anglos’ rights to immigrate, bring and hold their slaves, and pay little to no taxes or tariffs on their cotton and cattle. This really didn’t work out for three reasons.
First, the government posted a Mexican military official to enforce these unpopular measures at Anahuac near the major port of Galveston. Oddly that Mexican military official, John “Juan” Davis Bradburn, was an American. Not just any American, but a white Virginia-born Southerner and former slave trader. Perhaps he and the colonists being of a similarly fiery breed hastened the escalation of matters through the telltale steps to outright revolt: dubious written threats or staged protests, violent retaliation by the nervous government, mounting and mutual bloodshed.
Second, Austin was away in Mexico City while all this was happening trying to moderate the colonists’ demands of the current government, and he was actually having some success. But this meant he was neither in Galveston to smooth things over between the colonists and Bradburn, nor did anyone know he was already smoothing things over with Bradburn’s bosses.
Third, proud Mexican General Santa Anna took great offence at what was happening to a fellow officer of the Mexican Army in Galveston. Finding Bradburn’s bosses too weak to respond, he did so himself-- and, at the point, why not militarize Mexico into an empire?
So, war were declared in Tejas. Clearly Santa Anna was no good, so Remember the Alamo on March 6th. But just imagine for a second that lots of angry Mexican immigrants attacked Fort Bliss and then retreated to a fortified Baptist church. I’m pretty sure the U.S. Army garrison wouldn’t let them just chill there till things cooled down. Anyway, Jim Bowie, William B. Travis, Davy Crockett, Sam Houston’s brothers and every other Texian, except twenty-some women and children, died at the Alamo. Three times as many Mexicans died too, but whatever cause they’re the bad guys now. Sam Houston avenged his brothers’ deaths. He defeated Mexican forces and captured Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto on 21 April 1836.
Steve Austin died of illness in December, so Sam Houston now took the Republic-of-Texas bull by the horns. In its nine-year life, Texans spent lots of their time fighting off Comanche Indians from the northwest and still some Mexican forces from the south. But they mostly fought diplomatic battles for international recognition of both their sovereignty and ambitious border claims, claims which stretched west through New Mexico and north to Wyoming. Texan forces never controlled or settled this land, but that didn’t stop their dreams of one day extending to the Pacific. Its most contentious claim was that the Rio Grande was its southern border, whereas Mexico understand it to be the Nueces River 150 miles to the north.
That particular border dispute became an American concern when Texas acceded to statehood in 1845, precipitating the Mexican-American War wherein the United States finally realized its own dream of extending to the Pacific. (APUSH Bonus Fact: All the manifesting of destiny beyond the Louisiana Purchase north to Seattle and south to San Diego was accomplished by the little-remembered, quietly ruthless, and 11th president, Mr. James K. Polk. He did all this in one term.) The Compromise of 1850 confirmed Texas as a slave state and confined it to its current borders, south to the Rio Grande but nowhere near as far north and west. Texans agreed to ‘surrender’ future New Mexico, Wyoming et. al. primarily so that the U.S. would assume its $10 million debt. The Compromise of 1850 also postponed the Civil War for ten more years.
Yeah, that’s the Lone Star. 

This should be the start of a cheeseburger-named section about Texas as American, but it’s not. Sticking to the three foods/three flags thing, Texas was far more Texan than American through the Civil War. And let me point out that by not putting Confederate Texas in the U.S. section I’m implicitly respecting the legitimacy of secession, so try calling me a damn yankee now.

Yes, Texans did secede to join the Confederacy and shared much in common with their confederates. A severe orneriness about their personal and state’s rights, surely exacerbated by lack of central air conditioning, commonality in chief. It was during the Civil War that Cinco de Mayo broke out south of the (Rio Grande) border. Remember Napoleon and the French? While, this time his nephew, Napoleon III, tried to conquer Mexico as a check to the growing power of the United States. The French won the war and installed a French puppet state in Mexico, albeit short-lived. But Mexican forces won the battle against the French on 5 May 1862. This raised Mexican spirits for a little while, but it also barred the French from sweeping back into Texas, at which point they would have joined the Confederate fight against the Union. In light of this, I’m pretty sure “The South will rise again!” doesn’t jive with getting plastered on Cinco de Mayo, but far be it from me to quell either sentiment or activity.

By 1863, after two years where Texas saw very little battle on its own soil, the Union won control of the Mississippi River and effectively cut it off from the rest of the South for the rest of the war. Nevertheless, 90,000 Texans fought in gray over yonder. After the war, and unlike Amy Winehouse, Texas had to go to rehab with its confederates under the program of Reconstruction. No historian will argue that Reconstruction was successful, but it did have three outcomes all across the South: Blacks were free but not equal; Whites voted staunchly Democrat and kept Blacks from voting Lincoln Republican; both Blacks and Whites stayed poor and bitter whether at each other, the North, or both. Texas celebrates Juneteenth as the day the slaves were freed, but a lot of that freedom took another century to kick in.

3. That Cheeseburger section I promised. It’s probably a Big Mac.

All right, realtalk. Domestic growth between the Civil War and World War II doesn’t really interest me. It’s not that I find the times boring. I swoon when I study the foreign policy and financial powers of exactly this era. I’ll tell you what, Ante-global-bellum Imperialism is actually my speciality. Nevertheless, I’m bound by state law to explain what happened in Texas up till now, just as I must remain 500 feet away from Mark Cuban at all times. So here goes.

Cotton and cattle were still key to the Texas economy. The North’s successful blockade during the war was now lifted, and railroads soon knit the whole country together. A hurricane destroyed Galveston in 1900, so Houston popped up as a safer inland alternative that could still get things to port. It became a railroad hub. Another new railroad hub was the previously nondescript town of Dallas, a city you may have heard of. Businessmen, not Democrats entrenched in the postwar political machine, ran the city. So it soon became a center of finance and services and even erected the state’s first skyscraper. From Dallas, cows could take trains straight out of the state instead of shipping out from Houston/Galveston, though presumably not of their own accord. The farms those cows left behind were embroiled in land disputes. Both the new paths of the railways and the new use of barbed wire fences sliced up formerly free-flowing fields. Both railroads and barbed wire, while making cattle production a cash cow, ultimately signaled the death of the nation’s frontier open ranges.

The most powerful source of growth, however, was this new thing called oil. Spectacular gushers which shot oil straight into the sky attracted young men with commensurate energy. Texas eventually out-produced both California and Oklahoma. It may sound very odd today, but Democrat control of the state meant antagonism to big oil companies. Attorney General, then Governor Jim Hogg prosecuted John D. Rockefeller for Standard Oil’s many monopolistic practices-- e.g. controlling the railroads. These were Northern Republican business interests meddling in Texas, clearly unwelcome. But whether Standard or not, oil made Texas rich right along with aforementioned cotton, cattle and finance. More accurately, these made certain Texans rich. Both the Dust Bowl and Great Depression hit most Texans hard. A whole lot of field workers went west, and a whole lot of federal New Deal programs aimed to defibrillate the state. Luckily, once again, war were declared.

World War II was an economic godsend for the U.S. generally, Texas particularly, and Houston especially. Military bases, all varieties of technologically-advanced manufacturing, and aviation came to the state. With so many men away fighting Hitler or Hirohito, and so much new work in the cities, women, blacks and Mexicans got the jobs. With no one left to till the fields, FDR negotiated the Bracero Program with Mexico to import massive numbers of Mexicans for manual labor all over the Southwest. This program was renewed repeatedly until 1964. If you recall the first rule of history I mentioned, this massive influx of foreigners “to just help out for a bit”--like with the empresarios in Coahuila y Tejas--caused big trouble. When the white men returned from war and couldn’t find jobs, widespread discrimination against todos los braceros ensued. Cesar Chavez was essentially the Hispanic Martin Luther King in all this. He helped win workers’ and immigration rights across the Southwest. His birthday, March 31st, is a state holiday in Texas.

Since the 1960s, air conditioning has blown all sorts of people into the Sunbelt, of which Texas is the buckle. The Lone Star State may also be the buckle of the Bible Belt and has now voted Republican in every presidential election since 1980. I guess since everything is bigger in Texas, it has to wear two belts. And although Dallas witnessed the loss of one president in 1963, Texas has produced three presidents since then--LBJ, H.W. Bush, W. Bush--which is more than any other state in the last fifty years. Many new installations have joined all those military and aviation bases built during WWII, including one in Houston belonging to NASA.

Today, Texas is #1 for millions, but it’s second in three big categories. It’s second in area to Alaska by a lot: Alaska is 240 percent bigger. I’d write that one off because, come on, nobody cares about Alaska. But more significantly, although its 26 million people annually produce $1.4 trillion, Texas is second in both population and economic output to California, which was also a republic before it was a state. But that’s a story for another day.

Surprise! It’s not a relay race.

Maybe it never was, but the tamale, T-bone, and cheeseburger are all running around Texas today. San Antonio is almost all tamale. Lying south of the Nueces, it might as well still be Mexico. Houston is much more like a corporate McTropolis, though parts are straight out of Cops. Dallas-Fort Worth, however, exudes an Antebellum sensibility thoroughly wedded to Suburbia. Whereas Dallas campaigns to keep ‘normal,’ Austin proudly keeps weird. It’s the state capital and literal standard-bearer of Texas, but it shows up an island of blue each election year. This blue is the liberal and elite, and orange, University of Texas. Indeed, Austin’s hipsters and head shops could be straight out of Williamsburg-- the one in Brooklyn, not the colonial one near Busch Gardens. In fact, loads of people from Williamsburg flock annually to the ever-expanding Austin City Limits Music Festival. But don’t think for a second Austin isn’t proud to be Texan. The dome of the Texas State Capitol was not accidentally built taller than that other one in D.C.

But it is in rural Texas, east and west and everywhere else, you’ll find the strongest Texas pride trickling down into staunch ‘Murcan patriotism, a T-bone cheeseburger. Church-going Republicans share a religious dedication to the local high school and appropriate college football team. This is a phenomenon typical to a lot of the South. In Texas, though, it is rooted in a pride of place once coequal with any country in the world. You can see a recipe for tastes unamenable to figurative tamales. Austin, that hippy Babylon, doesn’t even vote as blue as the border districts south of the Nueces. People there don’t speak English, and they like some other sport they mistakenly call football. Where are their documents?

A bit harsh there, but this is not an indictment of Texas, the South, or even the United States. Any loyalty or group pride that makes someone “hate people they’ve never met and take credit for things they had no part in” is dangerous. Tamales, T-bones, and cheeseburgers can each be as repulsive as any other food. It’s an incredible accomplishment that all three dish around Texas today. There are very few hard-and-fast rules to learn from history, but endless truisms underpin the practice of medicine. Any registered dietician will tell you: People on strict diets react violently to new foods.