State Compares Alamo Cenotaph to Confederate Monuments

An underdog Indian tribe has joined the progeny of warriors in court to fight George P. Bush for the shrine of Texas liberty.

The ghosts of old battles still haunt the Alamo.

An underdog Indian tribe has joined the progeny of warriors in court to fight George P. Bush for the shrine of Texas liberty. The city’s controversial Alamo redesign plan, a mixed bag of ideas that includes moving the cenotaph off the grounds, has been slowed by an unlikely coalition of Native Americans and preservationists held together by a common ancestry of war. Both groups argue that the mission grounds are a graveyard, protected by state law, with the cenotaph acting as a headstone. United in court, they face Mayor Ron Nirenberg, General Land Office Commissioner George P. Bush and the increasingly foreign management of the embattled mission.

For descendants of the Alamo fighters like preservationist Lee Spencer White, the battle is personal.

“The Alamo is a cemetery, and we can prove it,” White told the Tower. “And the cenotaph is a funerary object. Under state law, you cannot move it off the cemetery.”

In addition to being an illegal removal of a funerary object, White claims moving the cenotaph off the grounds would disrespect the defenders. “They want to make money off them by selling coonskin caps in the gift shop, but you don’t want to honor the ground they bled and died for?” White said. “These were living, breathing people. This isn’t just some ancient history that doesn’t matter.”

White doesn’t understand budgetary arguments for moving the cenotaph. Engineer’s reports state that repairing the cenotaph would cost $140,000 to $160,000. “Just as a taxpayer, why would you spend millions to move the cenotaph when you can spend $200,000 to repair it?”

The Alamo Defenders Descendants Association filed a lawsuit late last year against Bush and the land office, asking the state the halt the cenotaph move. The Tap Pilam Coahuiltecans, a Native American tribe not yet federally recognized, filed an amicus brief with the descendants.

Art Martinez de Vara, who has been representing the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecans in court, says that the state has offered mainly procedural arguments for the cenotaph move.

“In other words, they’re saying, ‘Because we can,’” de Vara said.

While Bush and the land office have kept mum in public about why the cenotaph removal would be justified, they have compared the cenotaph to Confederate monuments in court.

“Last month at Travis County District Court in Austin, they argued that the chain of cases surrounding Confederate monuments applies,” de Vara said.

“The General Land Office and the Alamo Trust are aware of the cemetery,” de Vara claims. “The evidence is just overwhelming… Dozens of bodies have been dug up, there was archaeological investigation in the past, there’s 1,300 people in the burial book of the mission… It’s on their public displays that they market. Yet they have refused to acknowledge the existence of the cemetery because it would put a big wrench in their project.”

In addition to recognizing the Alamo as a cemetery alongside the descendants, the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecans have also worshiped at the Alamo–until the arrival of Ohio-based museum consultant Douglass McDonald, paid $2,000 a day to oversee the Alamo.

“The tribe was locked out of ceremonies,” de Vara said. “The Indians have utilized the Alamo for over 300 years as a place of worship… They have themselves interred ancestors, once in the chapel and once in the plaza, and part of their religious beliefs are that once you disturb ancestral remains, there is a forgiveness ceremony that is conducted and there is an annual visit to the graves. They’ve been practicing that for over 25 years, and the Alamo has accommodated them. That stopped this year with the new management of the Alamo.”

The mismanagement of buried bodies at the Alamo has stoked the coals of centuries-old feuds between tribes. The Tonkawa Tribe and Caddo and Seminole Nations of Oklahoma joined the Mescalero Apache and the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas in a committee organized by Alamo Trust to oversee the archaeological protocols, though none of the tribes claim ancestry from the Alamo. A tribal monitor from the Mescalero Apache has overseen the exhumations of bodies–even though the Apache may have put some of them in their graves.

“The land office and Alamo Trust have conducted the site as if NAGPRA–which is the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act–applies to the site, though they acknowledge that it doesn’t, so they have voluntarily applied a federal law and have weaponized it,” de Vara said. “The reason why they did that is because NAGPRA requires consultation with federally recognized tribes. So they brought in five tribes, four of which have no historical connection with the Alamo, and the one that does was the historic enemy of the Coahuiltecan people and are responsible for approximately 30 of the deaths in the burial.”

White claims that the burials include defenders from the 1836 battle as well as the bodies of Indians who lived in the mission, citing similarities between archaeological finds and the journals of Sgt. Edwart Everett of the First Regiment of Illinois Volunteers during the U.S. War with Mexico. “They found a coffin with just two femur bones inside it, and the Indians did not use coffins,” White said. “This is like finding King Tut’s tomb.”

“I feel frustrated, I feel saddened that I cannot say a prayer over my ancestor,” White said. “I’m for anyone with proof of having an ancestor to be included.”

The removal of the cenotaph has been delayed, halted yet by the groundswell of descendants and worshippers for whom the Alamo is still sacred.

Trinity Voter Guide

Your very own voter guide to all the races on the ballot for Trinity’s precinct. Every candidate from both major parties listed with links.

The further down the ballot you go, the more confusing a simple vote can become. To prepare you for early voting today, we compiled the complete list of candidates from the Democratic and Republican parties and culled them to include only the candidates for Trinity’s precinct, Precinct 2055. Each link goes to the candidate’s campaign website, Ballotpedia page or government site if the candidate already holds office.

Republican Primary Candidates:

U. S. Senator

U. S. Representative District 21

Railroad Commissioner

Chief Justice, Supreme Court

Justice, Supreme Court, Place 6 – Unexpired Term

Justice, Supreme Court, Place 7

Justice, Supreme Court, Place 8

Judge, Court Of Criminal Appeals, Place 3

Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4

Judge, Court Of Criminal Appeals Place 9

Chief Justice, 4th Court Of Appeals District

  • Renee Yanta

District Judge, 37th Judicial District

District Judge, 386th Judicial District

District Judge, 399th Judicial District

District Judge, 407th Judicial District


County Tax Assessor-Collector

County Constable Precinct 2

Democratic Primary Candidates:

U. S. Senator

U. S. Representative District 21

Railroad Commissioner

Chief Justice, Supreme Court

Justice, Supreme Court, Place 6 – Unexpired Term 

Justice, Supreme Court, Place 7 

Justice, Supreme Court, Place 8 

Judge, Court Of Criminal Appeals Place 3 

Judge, Court Of Criminal Appeals Place 4 

Judge, Court Of Criminal Appeals Place 9 

State Senator, District 26

State Representative District 123 

Chief Justice, 4th Court Of Appeals District 

District Judge, 37th Judicial District 

District Judge, 57th Judicial District 

District Judge, 73rd Judicial District 

District Judge, 131st Judicial District 

District Judge, 166th Judicial District 

District Judge, 175th Judicial District 

District Judge, 379th Judicial District 

District Judge, 386th Judicial District 

District Judge, 399th Judicial District 

District Judge, 407th Judicial District 

District Judge, 408th Judicial District 

District Judge, 438th Judicial District 


County Tax Assessor-Collector 

County Commissioner Precinct 2 

Justice Of The Peace Precinct 2

County Constable Precinct 2 

Counterpoint: Let Music Be

So what if the genres bleed together? Who says they have to represent history?

Because I like to hear musicians play their instruments, I’ve never been a big fan of country or rap. I’ll always have a soft spot for some country music because of my family, and plenty of hip hop beat doctors (especially drummers) show sparks of real creativity. Both genres are also easy to underestimate, hiding long, dramatic histories behind usually simple three-minute tracks. But while both genres have gems of genius lyrics, they also have a bad knack for hiding real playing skill behind music machines and a thick foreground of words–but that opinion is just my own.

I should also make it clear that “Old Town Road” is my least favorite song of all time. There’s absolutely no competition. I first heard it when I was living in Isabel and the baseball team had it playing during the warmup before a game. I was reading Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway on my balcony for some class, which was already torment enough, when “Old Town Road” wafted over from the field like some kind of terrible musical fart. A jazz fusion rendition of Justin Bieber’s “Baby” would have been like a sweet kiss compared to the ear-piercing strains of “Old Town Road.”

That said, I’m glad that America was the birthplace of this Frankenstein’s monster, and I don’t think it’s a severe departure from country music. The song is garish, boastful, and hard to categorize–naturally, it belongs to us Americans. On top of that, country music has been taking a steady spin down the toilet for decades as the genre tries ever harder to become a parody of itself. Every track takes a studio packed with trained musicians and a writing credit line longer than a sports team roster. Singers scrape the bottom of the same shared barrel for unoriginal bumper-sticker lyrics to be sung in outlandish accents. Even the subgenres of so-called red dirt or outlaw country too often rely on copying a flat portrait of rural life.

This process is much, much older than “Old Town Road” or “The Git Up.” Tractor rap infected the genre years ago, and the pop influence crept in with the rhinestones. Waylon Jennings noticed back in the 1970s that old Hank Williams didn’t exactly do it this-a-way. Ever since Chet Atkins decided he needed to back up his guitar with a full orchestra, country music has fled slowly but steadily away from purity.

Rap is fresher than country because it’s newer, but like rock music before it, rap’s rebellious attitude will wane as its popularity grows. Between well-meaning activists trying to castrate the genre and suburban kids somehow making money off low-effort beats they manufacture in their spare time, it’s possible that process has already begun.

So what if the genres bleed together? Who says genres have to represent a flash-frozen portion of history? Besides, in some ways, “Old Town Road” represents a good chunk of our American world today. On my high school football team south of Dallas, almost every player, black and white, knew Busta Rhymes’ part from “Look At Me Now” word for word. A lot of those white guys also knew “All My Exes Live In Texas” front and back. If that doesn’t seem clean or cut-and-dry, that’s because people just aren’t. Only in college do we see people trying their hardest to abide by the racial lines others draw for them. I get that a lot of liberals who can’t get outside of their own politics are trying their damnedest to redefine Texas music, but they won’t succeed anymore than conservatives will because music–even bad music, but especially the best music–is a living, organic thing that we cannot pin down or contain. Because “Old Town Road” just plain sucks, the best of all genres, new and old, will grow and outlast it.

Why Are Liberals Targeting this Gay Bar?

Of all the gay bars on Main Street, only one flies Old Glory above the rainbow flag: the Pegasus.

One congressional candidate has tried, and failed, to quietly escape identity politics.

Of all the gay bars on Main Street, only one flies Old Glory above the rainbow flag: the Pegasus. 

At night, the Pegasus also hangs a canvas banner in their signature black and green that reads: “We respect everyone’s right to protest, but please be kind to our patrons and staff.” Not a chalkboard. A permanent banner that somebody wrote, ordered and bought for indefinite use.

Why is the Pegasus begging for mercy as a standing request? Who would protest a gay bar? Surprisingly, the answer is neither Baptists nor the alt-right, but the San Antonio gay community—at least, part of it.

The Pegasus was founded by Mauro Garza, a local philanthropist, entrepreneur, and former Democrat. His embattled bar lies just south of the 20th Congressional District of Texas, held by Democrat Joaquin Castro. Garza hopes to flip the district and replace Castro as the congressman for San Antonio’s west side.

Protests have taken place in front of the Pegasus ever since a handful of left-leaning gays dug through Garza’s social media. They didn’t have to dig very hard—Garza is openly, unapologetically conservative. 

“My opponents don’t know how to deal with me.”

Mauro Garza, congressional candidate

To say that protests have rocked the Pegasus would be an overstatement. The protest I checked out consisted of a handful of uncomfortable-looking men in tight polo shirts standing on the sidewalk to give out flyers to passersby, urging them to choose a different bar. 

The flyers allege: “Last year the Republican Party in Texas needed money to run Anti-Gay and Anti-Trans ads for the purpose of creating fear and hatred of LGBT people just like you. Mauro Garza came through and gave more than 150,000.00$ of your gay dollars.”

Nuanced. It continues: “Now he’s running for Congress as a hardcore Trump loving, Mexican hating Republican.” 

Meeting Garza gives one the impression that he stumbled into this fray on accident. He’s a soft-spoken guy who wears khakis and adjusts his glasses as a nervous habit. When I asked if he’s the owner of that loud place across from my apartment, he distanced himself. “It’s one of my ventures, yes,” he said.

Garza is undoubtedly an unlikely candidate. Photos on his website put him among antlers, crosses and cowboy hats, typical Republican props. He wears his MAGA hat with pride and shares right-wing memes on social media. The internet, from his denouncers on Twitter to his supporters on his site, paints a unanimous picture of Garza as a staunch Republican disconnected from the gay community.

The irony doesn’t escape him. “My opponents don’t know how to deal with me,” he smiled, touching his glasses frames with one hand. “They call me racist even though I’m Hispanic, and they want to call me homophobic, even though I’m a part of that community.”

The Pegasus protesters had their day during the San Antonio Pride Parade when they unfurled a handmade banner in front of the bar, which read in scrawled spray paint: THE PEGASUS SUPPORTS TRUMP. Drag queens giving bystanders the bird arranged themselves around the poster. Since then, their protests have not been so glamorous. Ill-attended and lackluster, they stand below the spotlighted American flag unfurled before the Pegasus as passersby filter into the oldest undefeated bar on the Main Street Strip, unconcerned.

What is Just War?

An interview with Baylor professor and just war scholar David Corey.

We have a morality problem.

David Corey is a foremost scholar on the just war tradition and a professor of political philosophy at Baylor University. He spoke at Trinity on November 13 on the ethics of war, the confusion of morality, and the roots of modern rationalism.

When and where does the tradition of just war begin?

It’s really hard to give it a certain point. I know we want that for the tidiness of the account. One reason it’s hard to say is that a tradition, by Latin definition, is something that’s handed down. So who’s the first person in a tradition: the person who receives the thing that’s handed down, or the person who does the handing down? That’s a problem in and of itself.

It has beginnings in Roman antiquity. Cicero is frequently cited. Some of the early church fathers have positions that are close to this tradition. But the first person to really give it a fairly coherent treatment, even though it’s not in one place, is St. Augustine. You’ve got to cobble it together from various books, from his letters, so it’s not like he wrote a book called “The Just War Tradition” or “The Just War Theory.” There’s some in City of God and in some of his pastoral letters. He hands it down to St. Thomas Aquinas—and I’m skipping a couple figures—and Thomas Aquinas is fully aware of having received something from Augustine with respect to the ethics of war.

Why do you avoid the word “theory?”

I think there are just war theorists, and I think those theorists have just war theories, but if you want to describe the entire thing, it’s a tradition and not a theory. A tradition is made up of people’s just war theories, but the problem is that they don’t all agree. In fact, they disagree in various respects. If somebody says, ‘I’m an advocate of the just war theory,’ I would say there’s no such thing. If they say, ‘I’m an advocate of Augustine’s just war theory,’ I’d say ‘Okay, that’s fine.’ Augustine does have a just war theory, Locke has a just war theory, and so on.

You use a lot of literary examples. What effect are you going for there?

It is premeditated on my part. On the one hand, I think people have very high emotions with respect to ethics and war, and if I use real world examples, they have a dog in the race. So I try to avoid not only contemporary life but even American culture, because they have dogs in that race. I also recognize that I’m at Trinity, so I try to choose books that the students have read, so they can be like a common place and so I can validate the experience of students reading those texts as if to say, “These texts matter. You can use these texts to think about ethical problems.”

Could you describe the doctrine of double effect?

Oh, yes. It’s the idea that an act can have multiple effects, but you’re only morally responsible for the effects that you intend. And intent is pretty weighty there. It’s not just knowing that the effect is going to happen, because you can know that lots of the effects are going to happen. The one that you actually aim at bringing about, the one that you intend, that’s the one you’re morally responsible for. And then I gave some conditions—I don’t want to burden you with these conditions—but in order for that doctrine of double effect to kick in, whatever it is you’re aiming at, it’s got to be good. It can’t be evil. And you can’t use those other effects, those side effects, as means to an end. Those are some of the conditions that I stipulated.

So, moral ambiguity is not a modern invention.


Could you talk a little bit about we see moral ambiguity differently? Moderns, pre-moderns, and so forth?

Right. I think it troubles us because we presuppose that the human condition has all these rational conditions and we just can’t see them, and if we just think harder about it we could save ourselves from the human condition. Moral ambiguity really bothers us. I mean, it bothers everyone. But I think we’re prone to deny it, and the ancients, instead of denying it, tried to give an account of why it exists. For the ancient Greeks, they used polytheism to explain different morals, because there are different gods and they ask different things of us. Poseidon is mad, but Athena is happy. For the Christians—let me just say for Augustine and the Christians following, it’s not that there are multiple gods—of course, there aren’t. But something about the fall makes it so that we cannot escape moral ambiguity. So those are two different ways—the account of the fall on one hand, polytheism on the other–that you try to describe a phenomenon that is real. And I think—so I think Christianity does a good job of that, I think ancient Greek religion does a good job of that. What doesn’t do a good job of that is modern rationalism, which has its feet in Pelagianism.

Maybe you could describe the term “community of co-sufferers.”

Oh, yeah. I think living properly towards our neighbor requires honesty, and I think one of the things we need to be most honest about is that none of us is perfect, none of us has all the answers, none of us is completely not culpable. So I think whatever differences we have, we are jointly suffering this human condition of ambiguity and conflict. And if we’re honest about that, then suddenly, we’re almost on the same team. Even if we’re disagreeing, then at least we can both recognize that we’re co-sufferers of the fall. And that’s part of why we disagree and part of why we’re at odds. Why not be honest about this?

My Last Vespers

Rohan—an old friend, raised Hindu, now not-so-much—leaned over to me at our sophomore year Vespers and said, “This is aggressively Christian.” 

“It’s a Christian ceremony, bro,” said Lutfi, older friend, former roommate, raised Muslim, still Muslim.

Chappy, my roommate, a Hebrew glyph on his necklace, deflected to a lesser conflict: “Ecclesiastical and jazz are the only two acceptable types of Christmas music.” He cut himself off once the next hymn began and resumed once the echo of the organ faded.

Vespers, the oldest Trinity tradition, it is also one of the few traditions here whose history doesn’t disappoint. Unlike the curse of stepping on the seal, for example, the student government didn’t invent Vespers in 2004. Because it’s the only religious tradition Trinity has kept, it doesn’t take much digging to understand that Vespers has been around a long time. 

The challenge for Trinity of late (the past few decades) has been keeping Vespers in a time when our world doesn’t want faith to grow beyond culture. Instead of treating religion as a search for our Creator and His purpose for us, it’s tidier and easier for us to see faith as a cultural expression of identity, a subject of anthropological dissection.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not hearkening back to some supposed better time when everybody who attended Vespers believed the same thing. It’s a safe bet that such a time doesn’t exist, even when Trinity’s student body was all Presbyterian; every Vespers has probably heard at least one choir singer who doesn’t believe the lyrics.

Chappy’s phone vibrated. It was Rohan, group-texting us: “We going to Oakmont after this?” Was it even a matter of debate? Hot cider and President Anderson’s piano. Of course we were.

“So let’s skip this last song,” he suggested.

None of us stood.

The difference today is one of attitude toward faith. Even to an atheist, faith can be real, even if only as a concept. It stops seeming real once we treat it as a collection of cultural customs instead of a mysterious journey heavenward.

To some extent, all universities that aren’t seminaries have to treat religion that way. We avoid attachment to our subjects of study. During class, Trinity’s attitude toward faith is generous but studious, distant, sometimes sympathetic and sometimes critical, always experimental, always confident that Lakota Shamanism or Judaism or Pentecostalism are small, contained samples on a petri dish, and then it’s onto macro or organic chemistry with a bright blue sky and a smile and the world at rest with reason in charge.

But at Vespers, once the lights dim and the candle flame trickles one by one through the chapel, the sun-washed world of the campus in daytime disappears. Maybe it’s the quietening allure of flame, the same kind of silence that falls around campfires and hearths. Whatever forces are at work, one moment passes each year in Parker Chapel in which the campus rests in the knowledge that something important has happened. It feels real.

Obviously it’s not unanimous. People whisper. Ringtones echo. Somebody makes a joke, somebody else laughs, somebody shushes. But the atmosphere is different. The whispers and ringtones and jokes feel like interruptions instead of expected background noise.

“Come on. Y’all can’t even understand this song without the program. Shit’s in Latin.”

“So? It’s beautiful anyway,” Chappy said.

For students and faculty and all those who live their lives by the Trinity academic calendar, Vespers is like the annual equivalent of the moment between going to bed and falling asleep. It means the end of things for a while. It’s the downbeat in a yearlong rhythm, the start and finish line, when you can’t help but think about all the things that have happened since the last time the lights went down. This year is my last time arriving early but still too late and sitting in the high back rows below the trumpet pipes and spilling candle wax on my boots in the dark and leaning forward to hear the harpist and trying to sing along to the hymns. It makes me think of the last beat, the last time I rounded the starting line, and how much has come and gone since then: sneaking into the sanctuary to play the harpsichord they had left for some concert, kneeling at the stone benches in the chapel garden, leaving the chapel after Vespers to breathe fog in the cold December air and play “Silent Night” on banjo at Dean Tuttle’s house and “O Tannenbaum” on piano at President Anderson’s the next year (both men more patient with me than I deserve), leftover cider and unfrozen taquitos at somebody’s house on Oakmont, string lights and handbells and bundled children tugging elderly hands.

We don’t come to Vespers for the short sermons. The swell of the organ, the choir singing lyrics we don’t understand, the harp trilling soft and almost indiscernible, the candles flickering as night falls–that’s why every seat is taken at Parker Chapel by 6pm. Even to those for whom the good tidings of great joy stir no feeling, the beauty of Vespers can make the coming of Christmas seem real.

Liberals in Boots

Like all glamorous places, Texas breeds hipsters. The West begins in Texas, a place where books and movies are set. Naturally, natives thank their lucky stars they were born here, and so our cities have become big scavenger hunts for authenticity. Outsiders know Austin, but Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Marfa are all full of locals clamoring to find the realest barbecue and tequila.

Texas hipsters are an interesting breed. They’re well-traveled, but they take pride in their towns and insist there’s no place like home. Predominantly liberal, they look past Texas’ red reputation and embrace the varied culture they believe makes this place special. Southern hospitality and borderland diversity mean more to them than guns and football. They often understand why stereotypes of racism and bigotry stick to the state, but they work hard to convince visitors–and themselves–that love is more common than hatred here.

But despite their common love for the greatest state in the union, the divide between Texas hipsters and their small-town counterparts is vast. The name of Austin is sure to elicit scoffs from Texans whose towns have more livestock than people. Hipsters and country folk both tend to understand that they live in a special place, but each believes the other to be a poor representative to outsiders trying to understand what Texas means. Conservatives cast a wary eye at our blue dots on the map, at the complex and lovingly critical attitude of the Texas hipsters who love both Bernie Sanders and Buc-ee’s, and see only the unconvincing facades of liberals in boots.

The culture war between them peaked in the public spotlight of the 2018 Senate race which, though long finished, continues to expose a statewide fight for identity between rural and urban Texas. The Cruz-Beto battle was a rare moment of true symbolism, a little bit accidental and a little bit orchestrated, in which the candidates really represented their target audiences.

To outsiders, it looks so simple: Texas is red, and Texan things are conservative symbols. There seems to be some synonymous relationship between the conservatism of our politics and the cultural icons we produce. It’s an illusion that helped Beto cultivate a friendly, bipartisan image even as he raced leftward. Whataburger and picado banners created an easy distraction from his leftmost beliefs on abortion, weapons and healthcare.

Naturally, his bipartisan image earned the praise of Texas’ urban intelligentsia. From quirky culture rags like Texas Monthly and the San Antonio Current to metropolitan papers like the Dallas Morning News or the Austin American-Statesman, Beto attracted glowing press and sometimes even outright endorsements. Texas culture giants like Ethan Hawke and Beyonce followed suit. He was a real Texan, born and bred, unlike Canadian Cruz. But despite the burgers and El Paso chic, despite the Texas writers and Texas artists and Texas celebrities making Beto the undisputed coolest politician in the state, the people of Texas didn’t think it was enough.

In a very smart move, Beto decorated his campaign with Texan things. The strategy of putting Whataburger front and center really did convince a lot of people—especially Texas natives—because it made him more relatable. Even after Beto’s loss, we should ask what made it so effective, why so many liberals embrace Texas culture instead of scorning it, and what it means to be truly Texan.

Things don’t stay unique for long, but ideas leave their mark on a place. We can get moonshine outside of Kentucky nowadays, and New Mexico hasn’t cornered the market on Hatch chiles for a long time. Here in Texas, you can live your whole life and never see a horny toad outside of museums and pictures—but, if we’re truly a unique place, the idea of Texas shouldn’t change.

When O’Rourke fans insist on loving “all Texans,” we sense that the definition of what it means to be Texan is shifting, rather than growing, beneath our feet. Is a Texan merely someone who lives here? Or is there an unspoken love within the word, filled with hunting and homecoming football and backyard games of Moss until sunset?

In the words of Merle Haggard, they love our milk and honey, but they preach about some other way of living. Texas urbanites happily cling to horses and barbecue, but do they guard the rugged freedom that forged our state with a love so jealous and unflinching that any threat of infringement triggers a swift pushback? Texas Monthly calls itself “the national magazine of Texas,” but when push comes to shove, they treat true Texas nationalists with nothing but ridicule or disdain. Texas breeds companies we all love, such as Schlitterbahn or Blue Bell, but there has to be something more than the milk and honey. Texas is bigger than bluebonnets and Buc-ee’s. We can all enjoy our shibboleths like “Bexar” or “Gruene” and complain about how northerners can’t drive, but every state in the country has names that foreigners can’t pronounce and roads they don’t know. Texas is brash and successful, so we’ve taken to slapping the name on every product we make; as a result, our name risks becoming worn-out and hackneyed. When someone asks why Texas is the best, our answer should be deeper and truer than Whataburger.

Liberals with boots earn their intrigue because the aspects of Texanity they adopt are at odds with the mainstream left. Veganism, for example, is just one crossroads where the American left and liberals with boots diverge. Ribs and rodeo are hardly staples of hipster pastime. Environtalism creates another crossroads: no self-respecting Texan would prefer a smart car over a Ford F-150.

So we must dissect the dissonance. Are chic Texans like Beto and his native target audience merely wolves in sheep’s clothing? Have they learned the walk and talk of Texas just to assault its freedom unnoticed? Or have they just adopted the grass-is-greener mentality of spoiled, ungrateful children who chase the brief enchantments of elsewhere but always return home to complain while content? Or have they traveled, and learned the glamor of other places, but felt the stinging glow of homesickness for the land that reared them, and cannot bring themselves to abandon their state even as they question its reputation? Perhaps liberals in boots harbor a love somehow greater than the patriotism of the blindly faithful because they’ve tested their love and felt it tug them back to a place that their own politics insist they should abandon.

When someone asks why Texas is the best, our answer should be deeper and truer than Whataburger.

One wonders whether a blue Texas would still be Texas. True, Texas has not always been Republican, and yes, O’Rourke’s coattails dragged some Democrats into offices they hadn’t held before. The rural Republicans are dying out and the urban Democrats are reaching either the age or the motivation to vote in force for the first time in many races throughout the state. Even some older country-dwellers, like my farming kinfolk, cling to the New Deal promises that won their parents. Progress—the old antagonist of so many classic Westerns—marches forth, and if Cruz loses in 2024 his replacement will have D-TX by his name on TV. But, without the fierce love of freedom that has earned so many conservative politicians such insults as “hardliner” or “far-right,” will the connotation of “Texan” stay the same? Can Texas Monthly dethrone Bob Wills with feminist rap stars from Houston? We were born from war against Mexico; will our intelligentsia, far more enamored with Mexican culture than rural Texas culture, preserve our image?

The answers to these questions, I believe, lie in another: What does it mean to be a real Texan?

I’ll admit, debating connotations is shaky argumentative territory because the proof is too widespread and unoriginate to be cited. I can cite no footnote for the claim that gun and property rights have their place at the heart of Texas identity. I can only point to the general perception of our state and the 2018 election, in which the people of Texas showed that cultural know-how does not a true Texan make.

Ironically, a certain nativism tinges the Texas hipster. Texas liberals admirably see people instead of numbers when they look across the border, and they are quick to grant new arrivals the title of Texan. But lest we forget, most native Texans voted for O’Rourke. O’Rourke’s patriotic yet unique persona made him an icon for liberals with boots; how many punk fans are proud to call themselves Texan? O’Rourke personified the pick-and-choose rebellion of urban Texas by loving the state but rejecting the stereotypes. You won’t hear any punk rock at rallies for Chip Roy or Ted Cruz; there, country music still rules. O’Rourke appealed to those who loved their birthplace but wanted to change its rootin’ tootin’ redneck image. 

For the most part, those who want to change the way we think about Texas were born here. O’Rourke’s policy plans drew ire from Tea Partiers, such as those in my own family who warned, head-shakingly, that he wanted to make us like California. (Here, the unexpected nativism becomes plainer.) One can’t help but entertain the question: if Beto ran the place, and guns were harder to buy and the unborn were easier to kill, what would distinguish us from our great rival on the coast? Spicy ketchup? A Chicago corporation now controls Whataburger, so maybe not. Bluebonnets? They can grow in other states, too. If liberals with boots were born elsewhere, would they move here and call themselves Texans? I cannot answer for vast swaths of culture; that’s a question for each Texas hipster alone. But those who support bigger, more secular government here while denying the fears of Californizing our state should ask themselves whether the Texan symbols to which they cling are deep enough to keep Texan identity intact. If we love this place just because we were born here, and we like businesses and flowers and products just because they were born here, too, we can’t be sure that we truly love this place at all. 

I am reminded of so-called California refugees, or the Tongan immigrant living in Euless who said he came here because “I had Texas in my heart.” Can those of us who wish that Austin were just San Francisco plus Buc-ee’s ever claim to love Texas that much? If we say we love this state just because we grew up playing with Whataguy action figures, it seems arrogant to try and dampen the freedom that beckons to faraway travelers yearning for the place they dreamed of, where hints of the Wild West still linger and friendliness abides with a fierce hatred for tyranny. More Texans who moved here from other states, especially California, voted for Cruz because they already know what it’s like to be ruled by politicians like O’Rourke. Regardless of their birthplaces, O’Rourkes are everywhere, but Cruz is what sets us apart.

Texan-ness isn’t just a twist of flavor for one’s identity, like lemon in your tea. Like it or not, the name of Texas means freedom. At least, it should. It seems like every time we juice the name, it gets a little drier. A native Californian who moves here with Texas in his heart seems more Texan to me than a Houston native who shops at HEB for good cilantro. We can love the things born here, but we should remember the enterprising, creative spirit that bore them. The milk and honey will stop flowing when our way of life stops being free. It seems the true spirit of Texas is not inherited, but earned; we, the offspring of fighters and settlers, are all too restlessly eager to change the legacy they left us. The non-natives, for whom the dream of Texas still lives, tend to cherish freedom more dearly.

Even if we disagree about how much individual freedom Texans should enjoy, we recognize that freedom is Texan. Regardless of how we feel about constitutional carry, when we hear that over a dozen states allow it, but Texas is not one of them, aren’t we a little surprised? Packed in the subtleties of platitudes like “what Texans really want,” we hear an uphill struggle to uncouple Texas from its freedom-loving image.

Texas is a symbol, and like all symbols, ours was born naturally, not artificially. Try as we may, we cannot remake Texas in a new image and expect authenticity. Personally, I think T-Bone Walker and Freddy King deserve higher thrones in our musical pantheon than any country star we’ve ever produced, but their rank isn’t up to me. In my opinion, pecan may be one of the worst pie flavors we’ve ever cooked up, but it belongs to us. So what does it mean to be a real Texan? The answer seems thinner and more diluted for natives than for those who come here seeking freedom. All I can say is that the mass effort to strip the love of freedom from Texas pride reeks of artificiality and insincerity. Texan stuff is not enough. We need the spirit of rugged freedom in which our state was born, and we should guard it from politicians looking to replace the true meaning of our symbol with flashy trappings to hide tyranny. Without that freedom, our symbolic meaning will fade and we’ll become just another place like anywhere else.

Image by Mandy Shelton from Galway, Ireland – Beto, CC BY 2.0, 

A Cut Above

A good barbershop is hard to find. There are a few joints that cater to men, but almost comically so, with game shows on the television and Sports Illustrated swimsuit editions on the coffee tables. Salons and chain stores tend to be a bit classier, if less ‘manly’, and make it easy to get a clean haircut if a clean haircut is all one wants. The functional man may just content himself with a decent trim, even if he has to sit through elevator music and smell like perfume. But those who want a true barbershop experience have to search a little harder. My search ended at Barberia.

The towel warmer is decorated with Suavecito Pomade decals and a peeling American flag sticker. Tobacco pipe stands and black-and white pictures of Studebaker trucks hang on the weathered fence planks of the wall. The rickety wooden floor, the faded rug tumbling down the narrow staircase, the rusty iron shoe shine chair, and the bar that serves as the cashier’s counter all give Barberia the feel of an old saloon.

Adrian, who cut my hair, owns the place. Quiet and deliberate, Adrian’s a stocky fellow with a thick tree trunk of a body and sinewed, tattooed arms. He’s been cutting hair for twenty years, and the experience shows. Adrian’s silence reigns over the shop; the only sounds are the buzz of electric clippers, the snipping of scissors, and classic rock playing faintly through an old radio that can still take cassettes. Every once in a while, the phone will ring—it’s a Blackberry that they keep on a tall table made from a section of a bodark tree—and Adrian will tap the hair from his comb and answer. “Barbershop. It’s eighteen dollars for a haircut. Thank you.”

And he’ll put down the Blackberry and pick up the scissors, tilting your head and eyeing your hair with all the precise delicacy of a jeweler examining a diamond. “Roxanne” by the Police started playing on the radio. The barber in the chair beside Adrian’s was an immensely muscular man named Gino, also tattooed, whose short black hair curls in tight Roman ringlets. His customer left and Gino briskly swept the hair into a dustpan and sat down with a heavy creak in the chair.

Barberia used to be called the Olmos Park Barber Shop when it inhabited a smaller building next to Olmos Pharmacy on Hildebrand. Like the new Barberia, Adrian painted and decorated the old Olmos Park Barber Shop himself with vintage photographs and antiques. Although Adrian seems to be the only remaining barber that I recognize since the recent move, the spirit of the place remains unchanged. He brought most of the same decorations to the spacious new shop. The atmosphere seems to effortlessly strike the balance between class and fun. Men seeking a good haircut often have to settle for either the chic or the childish. Sleek salons and chains like Great Clips abound, and one enters the “shop” to the sound of an electric bell and the whiff of perfume and a pile of glossy fashion magazines on a row of plastic chairs. Other barber shops overstretch for some juvenile caricature of male appeal, like Sport Clips or Patriot Cuts on Broadway, with its 15 arcade games and Spiderman posters. Barberia’s eclectic, antique feel and unspoken code of conduct set it apart.

“Barbershop. Eighteen dollars. Thank you.”

Gino sharply got up and lumbered over to Adrian. Gino speaks quickly, in slang. “Man, I stayed out wi’ her lass night and man I slept forever, I was tired.”

“Yeah, she was the lady in red last night,” Adrian said, ponderous and slow.

“And he sent me a text wi’ all this bullshit—man, preaching at me, I don’t want to hear it,” Gino said.


Gino went back to his chair and splashed some kind of product on his hands and looked in the mirror and ruffled his hair sharply before slumping back down in his chair and humming along to the Police. A lady in a plaid shirt and shorts and cowboy boots walked in with a young boy, maybe five years old, who plopped himself on the booth bench in the middle of the room and kicked his legs while he played on his phone. In an accent somewhere eastern, like East Texas or Louisiana or someplace, she told Adrian about a get-together at her house.

“I’ll be late.”

“I’m thinking we’ll have brisket. I’ll save you a plate,” she said, smiling.

She left and we all got to talking about barbecue. Gino boasted that

he ate an entire rack of ribs the other night. Adrian nodded and simply said, “Yeah, that’s the way to do it.” I asked him if he got many other Trinity students in here, and he nodded.

“Yeah, we get a lot of athletes. Baseball players.”

He tilted my head and glared from beneath his black brows, thinking.  A third barber was cutting hair across the shop from us. He was a bit portly, arching his eyebrows, looking along his nose at the young customer in his chair as he held his scissors at the ready. Adrian asked me if I worked, and I told him that I wrote a little. “You ought to write an article about the Trinity athletes. About how they’re so dignified and behaved, and well-groomed,” he said with an ironic smile. “You know, I hear them laughing and cussing and everything, and then they come in here and they’re so well-behaved.”

Adrian insists on keeping Barberia’s atmosphere manly but familial. “We don’t curse in here. The big guy, Gino, he curses a little sometimes—and I get it, it’s a barbershop, it’s a place to let it out. But we really don’t do that much in here.”

Even as it caters to them, Barberia seems to gently demand that its customers be better men once they enter. It neither emasculates nor coddles its clientele. And though the shop has moved around and shuffled through different barbers, there is a certain steadfast gravity about it. In the calm, terse craftsmanship, in the humble carelessness of the conversations, and even in its most mundane routines, there is a sense that Barberia has weathered the ebbs and flows of our culture and, in some way, will stand forever.

“Barbershop. Eighteen dollars. Thank you.”

Editors Note: This story first appeared in our Spring 2019 print edition and included images taken by Celine Plamondon. Her photography business is called Marie June Photography, and her information can be found below. All credit for these images go to her and her business.

Five Shockingly Conservative Novels

If you’re looking for books to read that are utterly free from sex or violence, then you’re going to have to ignore a big chunk of good literature that includes all epic poetry and the Bible. In the following novels, discerning readers may find little gems of traditionalism, individualism, and even a little Hobbesian philosophy—provided they’re willing to sift through the shock.

1. A Clockwork Orange

Anthony Burgess’ dystopian novella follows the young delinquent Alex, a gangster with a lust for violence and classical music who wreaks nightly havoc on the streets of a dark near-future London whose population seems dully dependent upon the state. Eventually caught by the police, Alex agrees to an experimental treatment in exchange for a reduced sentence and finds that he can no longer exercise his free will.

Sadly, Burgess’ book lives in the shadow of Stanley Kubrick’s legendary 1971 film version, whose overt psychosexual tones frighten off more conservative viewers. Kubrick and the original American publishers both cut out Burgess’ entire final chapter, which follows Alex’s final, voluntary redemption.

Although the story contains violent scenes and dabbles in the postmodern playground of language, A Clockwork Orange (especially with all 21 original chapters) hacks at the root of statism as a parable about how forced morality can never be truly good.

2. The Rainbow

In other works such as St. Mawr, D.H. Lawrence shows his disgust with socialism and the cheapness of modern love more explicitly. It can be hard to hear the same voice in The Rainbow, which was burned on the streets of London for obscenity. But don’t be fooled—although the book’s main heroine flirts with homosexuality and seems to embody the burgeoning feminism of the new century, The Rainbow puts untraditional love on trial and finds it wanting. The Rainbow ends with its heroine, now experienced, awaiting marriage as a transcendent force rather than a cheap social artifice. There’s no 1950s housewifery, but Lawrence’s meandering novel treats love with reverence and strongly affirms a deep, essential difference between men and women.

3. On the Road

Jack Kerouac’s controversial novel delights in the richness of America. The novel retells Kerouac’s real descent into the drug-addled underworld of the Beat generation as he travels with famous writers from coast to coast. From jazz music to the Rocky Mountains, Kerouac playfully and sincerely sees the country through loving eyes and just can’t get enough of it all.

Admittedly, the conservatism in the novel depends heavily on the times. Love for America used to be a common (if not believable) theme in liberal rhetoric, but the leftward dash towards globalism has abandoned simple patriotism to the right wing. Today, Kerouac’s simple, almost childlike appreciation of American beauty is a refreshing dose.

4. Lord of the Flies

Pessimism about human nature is the root of conservative thought, and Lord of the Flies encapsulates it perfectly. William Golding’s novel plops a lot of choir boys on an island and watches their civilized sense of humanity unravel. In a sense, Golding uses a story to explain what Thomas Hobbes argues in Leviathan: given utter freedom, humans are nasty, warlike things. The reintroduction of order at the end brings them right back to the supposed innocence of childhood that we enjoy in civilization.

5. Blood Meridian

Set in the lawless world of the Texas-Mexico border in the Old West, Blood Meridian contains some of the most grisly scenes in literature, all told in perhaps the most beautiful prose in American writing. The unnamed ‘Kid’ is our hero, an impressionable young runaway who falls in with a crowd of mercenaries who make their money collecting Indian scalps.

Blood Meridian is a complicated novel that resists interpretation, but the most significant conflict is a battle for the Kid’s soul between a priest-turned-mercenary and an otherworldly villain known only as the Judge. The Judge seems to be an embodiment of the impending modern age. Though a ruthless criminal of massive strength, the Judge is an amoral empiricist who speaks many languages eloquently and sketches all the creatures he sees in his little scientific journal. He sets himself as the enemy of the Priest, who desperately tries to convince the Kid to stay away from the Judge. It’s impossible to be too specific in a paragraph when interpreting a book as full as Blood Meridian, but beneath the horror of McCarthy’s world lies a suspicion for modernism and an elegy for the old.

Bonus: Hard Times

In the end, Hard Times is a feel-good novel that doesn’t really shock the reader like the rest of the books on this list, but because so many critics easily interpret Dickens’ work as anti-capitalist, it deserves a spot as a surprisingly conservative novel. Russell Kirk once called conservatism “the negation of ideology.” We conservatives stay dubious of any social theories that claim to save us, understanding that humans are too weak to come up with a good panacea and too complex to be pigeonholed by know-it-all scholars. Few novels preach this message as well as Charles Dickens’ Hard Times.

Compared to Dickens’ longer and more complicated works, Hard Times can seem a little didactic. Yet, Charles Dickens still works his magic as a master storyteller with his trademark use of intersecting plotlines, vivid characterization, and a good, satisfying ending. Furthermore, the message it sends goes beyond a critique of industrialism. In addition to big business, Dickens accuses standardized education and the government for failing to recognize the beauty of the individual. Rigid philosophy and dependence on facts are the chief villains of Hard Times, and simple individualism is the hero.

All images are free use.

Beto Significantly Sweatier, More Generic

Presidential hopeful Robert Francis O’Rourke, colloquially known as ‘Beto’, unveiled a new campaign strategy that he hopes will achieve greater sweatiness and vagueness.

“I say ‘real Americans’ a lot,” said the drenched O’Rourke. “And anytime somebody brings up a political issue, I just mention my son, Ulysses. Isn’t he cute?”

O’Rourke’s campaign personnel cited an experience from a recent town hall as an example for the success of their new strategy. When concerned local citizen Denise Johnson asked a question about taxes, O’Rourke wiped his forehead and started playing the electric guitar. “It’s about time we had an honest presidential candidate,” Johnson said appreciatively.

According to analyst Nathaniel Bronze, O’Rourke’s presidential bid is at least 67% sweatier and 71% more generic than his failed senate run. “We’re seeing the greatest sheer volume of sweat in a presidential candidate since we started taking record in the 1860s,” Bronze said. “It’s astonishing. They’re calling him ‘Sweaty Betty.’ And his genericness is really off the charts.”

The plan is not without its setbacks. According to campaign volunteer Seamus Cavanaugh,, O’Rourke’s sweat has led to certain technological problems. “He kept shorting out the microphones with his moisture, so we had to start waterproofing them,” Cavanaugh said. “At first we tried taping napkins around the handle, but he just soaked right through them. He’s remarkably sweaty–makes me remember why I got into politics.”

Kelly McAwley has a full-time internship placing ‘Wet Floor’ signs for O’Rourke’s campaign. “It was his idea to get the signs that say ‘Piso Mojado.’ He’s so inclusive,” McAwley beamed. “He really hooked me with his plan to make a better America for all Americans, in America. For Americans. I just hadn’t heard that before from another presidential candidate.”