Life in the USA
Land, History and Language
The American Land
Texas, known as the “Lone Star State,” is the second largest American state in area (after Alaska) and also in population (after California). Texas is the only state with three cities having more than a million people each. Houston is the nation’s fourth largest city. The Dallas-Fort Worth complex is the nation’s fourth largest metropolitan area. San Antonio is also a major metropolis. The large western city of El Paso is also part of a major metropolitan area if you factor in its immediate neighbor across the Rio Grande, the Mexican city of Juarez. The state capital of Austin, which has also the largest center of the state university system, enjoys a reputation as a center of American traditional music.
In the national consciousness, Texas is usually thought of as a region in itself. The area of eastern Texas that borders the southern states of Louisiana and Arkansas, known for its pine woodlands, is a continuation of the Deep South. Southerners often consider Texas part of the South, especially considering the fact that the state joined the Confederate States of America during the Civil War of 1861-1865. The vast central and northern expanses of Texas, however, are prairies, linking Texas to the plains states to its north: Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and North and South Dakota. Western and southwestern Texas has identifications with the desert southwest, while the long border area has understandable associations with Mexico. Texas also has a long coastline on the Gulf of Mexico with its own maritime character.
Texas began as an independent country after violently breaking with Mexico in 1836. The massacre of American settlers at the Alamo mission in San Antonio during that war is an iconic event in Texas, and indeed American, history. In 1845, the young country joined the United States. Texas became a major cattle producer. Though the state today has quite a diversified economy (the second largest in the United States after California’s), the image of the longhorn steer, the cowboy, and downright bigness has always stuck to Texas. The later establishment of Texas as an oil producing center only tended to enhance the state’s reputation for bigness, boldness, and brashness.
As easy as Texas is to stereotype, it has many complexities. Many Americans are not aware that much of central and south central Texas was settled by Germans, for example, and that people of German descent make up more than 10% of the population. Dig into the history of Texas Barbecue and you quickly uncover German traditions of curing and processing meats. More than a third of the state’s population is Hispanic, though even here the term does not refer to a unified group; recent immigrants from Mexico and Central America mix with native Tejanos whose families have been Texan for centuries. Texas also has a significant African-American population. As part of the American “sun-belt” it has also attracted many migrants from the northern United States: black, white, Asian and Hispanic.
Many Texans speak a form of English they call “Texan,” distinguished by a nasalized pronunciation, a specialized vocabulary, and incredibly long multi-syllabic vowels.
Texas has a strong association with evangelical Protestantism and is considered a mainstay of the so-called Bible Belt, the largely southern region where religion-based social conservatism holds sway. Of course, due to its diversity and size, nearly every religion—from Roman Catholicism to Judaism to Hinduism—is represented.
The ultimate descriptor of Texas—after the highly applicable term “big”—is variety: sophisticated cities with major universities and hospitals, symphony orchestras and fine restaurants, dirt-poor border towns, oil wells and refineries, high tech industries, the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, immense cattle feed lots, fields of grain that stretch to the horizon, Gulf coast shrimp boats and beaches, and much more.
Next Section: The Bible Belt
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