On our summer trip to Texas we missed the annual “Keep Austin Weird” festival by just a few days. It was a relief. I’ve always been immune to the quirky supposed-charm of the town that celebrates Eeyore’s birthday. Houston was my home because I liked it. It’s unsettling to try to live in a place where you can’t tell the homeless people from the grad students.
So where does the “weird” that Austinites are keeping actually come from?
Could it be the university? Probably not. College Station also has a university…
Is it something to do with the state capital? Baton Rouge is a state capital and a university town and it’s not a hippie-rich environment.
You say it’s the music scene? Could be, but where did the music scene come from? Besides, I’ve spent some time in Nashville with a state capital, a big university, and a modest music industry. It’s not the same.
There is something else going on here.
Go back a ways into history and the clues start to emerge. The Hill Country was settled by waves of immigrants from Saxony, Prussia, Poland, Bohemia, and numerous other exotic Central European locales. Nestled in that rugged country, they became a curious cultural island in a sea of militant Scots-Irish Protestants.
While neighboring Baptist-dominated counties went “dry,” they built biergartens. While 20th Century white Southerners grew ever more prim and righteous, they built dance halls where whole families gathered.
Their identity was conveniently subsumed under the blanket of “white” that sheltered all the people considered acceptable in the old racial order, but they made only token efforts to fit in. Those Hill Country communities remain stubbornly ethnic to this day.
Once the border has been properly walled off behind razor wire and machine gun nests, perhaps we will have some resources left to deal with the Hill Country. Those people clearly don’t understand what America is all about. The Walburg Mercantile could become a Wal-Mart. Those folks can put away their bratwursts and eat hotdogs like loyal citizens. Luckenbach could be renamed Lucasville. Fredricksburg can just be Fred. Well, maybe New Fred. Doesn’t that sound better?
Austin isn’t my cup of mushroom tea, but I can’t imagine a Texas without it. As long as Texas is prosperous and healthy, new people will come from all over the world to help make it stronger. Along the way they will change some things, sometimes in ways we wouldn’t prefer. They will speak other languages, worship as they like, raise their children with unique goals and ambitions. They will adapt many of our traditions, add some of their own, and build new visions of Texas.
But through all the coming changes there is one thing we can rely on. Austin will still be weird.
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