I've stumbled across a strange controversy while perusing various Internet forums in recent years. There are passionate arguments being made about whether or not Texas is part of "The South."
I had never really thought much about it, to be honest. Growing up in the Houston area, I would very occasionally run across some older person who would use the term "Yankee" in reference to someone hailing from a Northern state, but that was rare in my neck of the woods. As I got older, and spent time traveling through the Southern states, I noticed that there was a certain similarity in how they "felt," a homogeneity in culture that I didn't notice existing to any large degree in Texas. I just never really thought the Lone Star State felt like the "South" very much.
But there are people who claim that we ARE definitely a part of "The South," and that it's impossible to deny. I've come across many a passionate online argument over this subject. To me, the fact that this is even up for debate sort of proves that a lot of folks just see Texas as something different culturally than other Southern states - there's not similar disagreement about the "Southern-ness" of say, Alabama or Mississippi.
Now it's true, far East Texas feels very Southern. Having spent a lot of time east of Beaumont, that part of this state does seem nearly identical in culture to other parts of the South. But this is a very big state, and East Texas isn't enough to claim the rest of it for the South.
Also, from a geographical position, there's no argument that Texas is located in the Southern portion of the United States. But geography isn't what I'm talking about; I'm talking about cultural similarities.
So why don't I think that Texas is culturally similar enough to other states in the South, to claim some major connection with the rest of them? There are lots of reasons.
Many of the arguments linking Texas to the "Deep South" hinge on our involvement in the Civil War. There's no denying Texas's alliance with the South in that conflict, this state was a member of the Confederacy, and that's that. To some people, that forever brands Texas as part of the South, which is a fair argument to make. The people who I most often see using Texas's alignment with the South during the Civil War as irrefutable evidence that we're part of the South tend to be folks who personally have strong connections to the culture and traditions of other southern states. And it's true, Texas was part of the Confederacy and a slave state, so those two sad facts make a strong argument for why Texas is a part of the South. My position is not an apologist attempt at ignoring shameful connections to slavery or denying that Texas fought for the Confederacy, but simply to say that modern day Texas is too different from true Southern states to be grouped with them now.
I believe this to be true because of vast demographic and cultural changes that have occurred in Texas since the end of the Civil War. Traveling in the true Southern states, it's impossible to ignore the still strong cultural identity that many Southerners seem to feel in connection with the Antebellum South. Most modern Texans I know couldn't name a Civil War battle fought in this state, but they sure as heck remember the Alamo and Battle of San Jacinto. In the rest of the South, connections to things like plantation life and slavery just don't seem that far in the past, there are still deep cultural ties to those things, and pride in being part of the Confederacy. Here? I'd argue that more Texans care about our state's battle to win independence from Mexico than they do about the Civil War. That conflict left lasting scars in Texas, but it is not the defining moment in our history that it seems to be in a lot of The South.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
As time has passed, it seems to me that most of this state has slowly cast off remaining ties to a truly Southern past. There are high schools and streets that still retain the names of Civil War generals, but fewer and fewer seem to remain. Texas was always, at most, an outlying state in the South, and large enough to encompass many different cultures, something most of the rest of the South can't really claim. I doubt that many people would notice much in the way of true Deep Southern culture in cities like Austin, San Antonio, El Paso, or even modern day Houston. While we're also part of the Bible Belt, Texas has always had a larger Catholic population than other Southern states to moderate the "WASPiness" of the culture and keep organizations like the Klan from getting as strong a foothold as they once had in the Deep South.
Texas is unique, and has always been different from every other state. One way of measuring cultural connections is through the food people eat in any given area. Texas certainly has its fair share of traditional southern fare, but it's not our defining food style by any means. I'd argue that Tex Mex and our version of BBQ is more prevalent, or at least equally so.
Texas has always had deep connections to Mexico, and waves of immigration from Germany and Czechoslovakia. More recently, the state has seen large numbers of people immigrating from China, Vietnam, and other Asian countries. Texas is a magnet for immigrants from all over the world, and they are adding to the cultural landscape here in ways that continues to widen a divide between us and the rest of the South. I would not argue that there aren't some cultural traditions that we hold in common with the Southern states, but that simply Texas is too diverse culturally for that Southern influence to be the dominant one, making us very different from the South. Texas is really where different regional traditions meet and mix. We're not really "Southern," not truly "Southwestern," and not the Midwest, but depending on where you are in Texas, there are cultural similarities from those regions. Far East Texas is as different as night and day to far West Texas.
While Texas might once have had deeper ties to the rest of the southern United States, and still has cultural traditions from that region, we also have many other more recent cultural additions which have diluted the Southern traditions, or at least displaced them as a dominant one throughout the state. And that in a nutshell is why I don't think it is any longer accurate to include Texas as part of "The South." We have changed too much, and much of the South has not.