Random Ephemera

Do You Feel More Texan Than American?

Recently, I asked a large group of my friends if they identified more strongly as Americans or as Texans, and nearly every one of them responded that they felt they were Texans first and foremost. That surprised me. I grew up saying the Pledge of Allegiance, and while "Texas stuff" loomed large throughout my early life, it always seemed secondary in importance to my identity as an American. As I've gotten older, I have begun to appreciate Texas culture(s) more than I did in my youth, but I began to wonder how other people from this part of the country saw themselves. Whenever I asked that question, inevitably most people responded that they "Felt more Texan than American.", or at least that while they are loyal citizens of America, their personal identity is more heavily invested in being Texan.

Perhaps it's not surprising then that a lot of people have stronger feelings about being a resident of the Lone Star State. On one hand, there's an appealing, larger than life mythology associated with Texas, and on the other, we're often criticized by folks from outside the state. Maybe that is part of the reason a lot of people dig in and get defensive when someone says something unflattering about Texas.  We're a target for criticism, sometimes deserved, and sometimes not, but it's hard to not take it personally at times. After all, when some people slam a place, they're often really criticizing the people who live there.

When people in other countries criticize America or Americans, it's almost less stinging than a direct jab at Texans, because it's easy enough to see the rest of the country as something different and apart from "us". That would go a long way toward explaining how regional pride grows in a person, but it still seems a bit odd.

And even within the state, a lot of people seem to take that regional pride and their personal connection with specific places even further, feeling strongly connected to the city or part of the state they live in. Houston has a fairly strong image, and I know quite a few people who identify as Houstonians more than as Texans. It gets even more specific with some people - The Inner Loop/Outer Loop divide has been argued over in Houston for years now, and in Austin, it's not uncommon to see someone with a bumper sticker proclaiming that they live in South Austin, because the area over the river apparently has caché that the rest of town doesn't. That's the implication anyway.

Is that kind of strong self-identification with one's immediate area something new, or more common now than it used to be? I started to look for studies that might reveal some insight into this, but surprisingly there doesn't appear to be a whole lot of good information available. A recent study by Barna Group accessed the components of human self-identity, and their polling indicated that Americans ranked the things forming their self-identity in the following order:

1. Family. 2. Being an American. 3. Their religious faith. 4. Ethnic group. 5. Career. 6. State. 7. City or town.

How unbiased studies by the Barna Group are, is unclear, as they're an evangelical Christian polling firm, but that list feels about right. Their studies are widely cited and have also been used by companies like Disney and Sony in the past, so that lends them some credibility. While I've generally only considered the importance of state verses national identity, my observations don't appear to be supported by this study. Perhaps that Texas pride I'd noticed is only stronger than American pride among people I know, or maybe the Barna Group didn't poll people in Texas, and it's unique to this state. I also never considered other components of self-identity among Texans, and might have gotten vastly different responses had I included things like ethnicity or religion. A recent study by the Pew Research Center, assessed attitudes about how American Hispanics self-identity, and since Hispanics lead in immigration and population growth in America and Texas now, it's telling to look at some of that data too.

According to the report, just slightly more than half of the people responding indicated that they most often used their family's country of origin to describe their identity. For example, they were more likely to refer to themselves as "Mexican" or "Guatemalan" rather than "Hispanic" or "Latino" if asked. Only 21 percent indicated that they referred to themselves as "Americans" most often. That seems to point to the idea of self-identity as being more complex to many people than them primarily feeling connected to their state or this country.

Perhaps that's the biggest thing to take away from all of this. There seem to be many components to each person's self-identity, and connections to a hometown, the country their family originated from, their ethnicity, and other strong connections probably all factor into our feelings about "who we are". As the country and this state continues to diversify, self-identification may grow ever more complex, so asking a person if they feel stronger about being a Texan or an American may be missing the bigger picture.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Chris Lane is a contributing writer who enjoys covering art, music, pop culture, and social issues.