“I’m half Spanish. And I was born in London…” I say, amid ooh’s and ahh’s and looks of surprise.
“Although I moved when I was just four, so I don’t remember it,” I finish in a mutter.
For years, this was how I would answer the typical first-ever-conversation question ‘Where are you from?’ And the answer would always solicit some sort of surprise or fascination with the fact that I could speak Spanish seemingly fluently and yet appear blonde, pale and green-eyed.
But the little boost of pride I got from being different was a thin cover-up. I didn’t choose my birthplace and certainly not my genealogy. In many places, being bilingual is the norm and sometimes even signals an underachiever!
I stopped myself from saying “ya’ll” and made it a point not to regard Richmond, Texas, as my hometown because it meant fitting in, and I wanted to stand out.
Now, I see things in quite a different light. I say y’all because it is the only second-person plural in the English language that makes sense and doesn’t sound odd rolling off the tongue. I crave breakfast tacos (a Texan specialty) at least three times a week. I know the Texas pledge by heart from years of reciting it, staring at our flag with a hand clasped to my heart. I know that there is nothing better than a bag of candied pecans from Berdoll’s and that Buccee’s gas station not only offers infinite delicious food options but also the cleanest bathrooms from here to El Paso (or anywhere). I know that Austin is a liberal health nut hipster haven oddly placed smack in the middle of a conservative state in the Bible belt. And I know that “I’m from Houston” sparks as much familiarity as “I’m from London” does.
I’ll be leaving my home state for a year. Here are some things I’ll miss (and some I definitely won’t).
Part I: Please send some in the mail regularly.
- Whole Foods Market. (AKA Whole Paycheck or Holy Foods)
Founded in Austin, this place houses the healthiest and most expensive groceries you can buy. Today I spent all my tip money on fancy cheese. I’m not religious, but Whole Foods is the closest thing to my church.
My local chapter of Holy Foods.
- H-E-B. (Promoted as “Here Everything’s Better,” but actually stands for Herbert E. Butts, the owner)
This Texas-exclusive grocery store is home to the best homemade soft tortillas I’ve ever had (irreplaceable in the making of my specialty egg & feta cheese breakfast tacos). I go to university in Oklahoma (one state up), and the withdrawal is sometimes too much to bear.
- Cute Southern gentlemen
Although many of these drive annoyingly large Ford F-150 pickup trucks and think wearing cowboy boots with cargo shorts is “fashion,” they do exist and will hold doors open for you while flashing an overly bleached toothy smile.
The correct pronunciation is “pecahhhn” for the nut and “pee-can” for the pie (according to an extensive poll I have conducted over the years I’ve lived here). From picking them from your local park and cracking them open on the porch to buying some candied or chocolate-coated ones at Berdoll’s as fuel for a road trip to Austin, these nuts are hard to beat.
- Actually good Tex-Mex
Although I can’t speak for myself, a few friends have told me that Tex-Mex tastes better than traditional Mexican food. Many chains try to copy, but there is nothing better than fajitas and quesadillas made at Houston’s own Gringo’s Mexican Kitchen. I don’t know what they put in that green sauce, but it is addictive.
I know I’ve talked a lot about food, but I have to mention barbeque. Not only is this meal (brisket, sausage, beans, mashed potato, cole slaw, corn, pickles, and toast) the staple at every company lunch and school function in the state, but every grocery store has an aisle specifically filled with hundreds of varieties of barbeque sauce for your weekend backyard grill.
- State pride
Reciting the state pledge every morning at school gets annoying, but the amount of pride Texans have when they talk about their state really is heartwarming. Not everyone has a stereotypical hick accent, but Don’t Mess With Texas (a phrase coined a few years back as part of an anti-littering campaign that has stuck ever since) bumper stickers and Texan flags decorate every car and front yard. When people think of the US, they mention three places – New York, California, and Texas.
Part II: Keep it, I don’t want it.
- Terrible drivers
As previously mentioned, everyone drives huge trucks or SUVs (perhaps to compensate for their lack of manners) and therefore assumes the privilege of driving at least 30 over the speed limit and swerving everywhere like a maniac. It’s almost a better idea to buy a bulletproof gas-guzzler yourself so that when you inevitably get into an accident you sustain as little damage as possible.
- Highways – everywhere
It may seem an amazing convenience, but these endless stretches of concrete cause a whole mass of problems. They radiate heat, encourage urban sprawl, ruin the landscape, and make it impossible to get anywhere without a car. The “city” of Houston is so spread out that it takes at least half an hour to cross from the west side to the east, and our “downtown” is a pitiful handful of skyscrapers clustered together.
- Slowness to change
There are plenty of racists, sexists, and homophobes roaming around – a consequence of our Red state status. People still fly the Confederate flag as though it doesn’t represent slavery and oppression. Cults and hate groups abound. I even visited a Masonic lodge as part of a scholarship contest, where members dismissed claims of secrecy and then proceeded to chant and perform weird rituals. A large portion of our population would love to secede from the US and resume our 19th century, 10-year-long status as an independent republic, likely in order to continue our backwards ways without any checks from the outside world!
Most rich Texans are new money who got lucky in the oil & gas industry. My own father is a petroleum engineer. But after the BP oil spill and amidst growing awareness of the dangers of fracking to the environment, I wish Texas could find a new industry to thrive on.
- The weather
Get ready to spend a large chunk of your monthly income on air conditioning. The summer takes up three-quarters of the year, and it gets hot. Not even dry heat that’s bearable. The air gets so heavy and humid that at some point, you’re not even sure if you’re drenched in sweat or water evaporated from the Gulf of Mexico. I even wrote a song about it with my sister. Oh, and we get the occasional hurricane. During the last one, my dad “boarded the windows” with cardboard and we hoped for the best.
Hope you enjoyed that slightly longer blog! What are some stereotypes you’ve heard about Texas, and what are things that you would miss about your hometown if you left? I’d love to know!