A Place for All Texans

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EDITOR’S NOTE: These remarks were made at the Texas Observer Writers’ Festival on May 8, 2010. We hope this will be the beginning of a continued dialogue on creating a more inclusive Texas:

I wrote a pair of breezy little novels: Damas, Dramas, and Ana Ruiz, which came out last year, and Sisters, Strangers, and Starting Over which comes out in July. But I am relinquishing my book-talk time to offer this short editorial about the creation of this panel:

I want to be heard. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but being heard goes a long way toward healing long-held wounds inflicted by injustice, indifference, and silence. That is why I commend The Texas Observer and the organizers of this festival for making this last minute addition to their Texas Writers’ Festival.

When it was pointed out to them that their roster of writers was missing something—namely writers who come from that whopping portion of Texans who are Latino, African, Native, and Asian Americans—not to mention an increasingly international population—their response was to try and make things right. They asked and I agreed to help assemble this panel. Impressive, since the response could have been:

Stone cold silence—which many critics under similar circumstances have experienced from publications like Texas Monthly

~Or~

They could have simply changed the name of this event to a “Celebration of White Texas Writers.

No. They chose to actively make good on their stated mission to be progressive and inclusive. That there was such a volatile, passionate response to the Observer’s error of omission speaks to the tenderness of old, but still fresh wounds. But make no mistake: the ground is changing beneath all of us. No one is the ultimate authority on the Texas narrative. Indeed, there are voices that have been ignored, either by design or cluelessness, but that simply cannot continue. The world is rapidly becoming more global and inter-dependent. Ready, or not.

I think this paraphrase of Henry James is useful: “The house of fiction has not one window, but a number of windows…from these apertures, writers view the world. Other writers in other windows may be looking out onto the same world, but never quite with the same perspective and definitely not with the experiences you might expect.

I’m a Mexican from Nebraska. As big and brown and loud as I am, you think I don’t have something to say!?

The pent-up anger that precipitated the creation of this panel is going to spew for a while. It’s unavoidable and necessary. The Pandora’s Box has been opened. Frankly, I have no problem using my foot to stop the box from snapping shut again. But it’s equally important to imagine: how do we make this energy transformative.

Believe it or not, The Texas Observer does not have a shingle placed outside their door that says, “No Dogs or Mexicans Allowed.” On the contrary, while the change in their pages has not come swiftly enough for some, they are actively seeking ways to broaden their base, the diversity of their bylines, the breadth of their content, and their subscriber base. It’s time we heard about what it means to be a “real Texan” from a Palestinian living in the Golden Triangle, an African American living in the Panhandle, an Asian American living in Laredo, an Iranian living in Dallas, and yes, a Chicana living in Austin.

In that spirit, I offer to Bob Moser and his staff: a working list of Latino, African, and Asian American writers to approach as paid contributors to the magazine, as a means to effect tangible change at The Texas Observer beyond the creation of one, 40 minute panel.

[Hand Bob Moser the list attached to a jar of jelly]

Now, you may be thinking: why is she giving him a jar of jelly? Well, this is in reference to that oft quoted father of Texana progressivism, Ralph Yarborough who said: “Let’s put the jam on the lower shelf so the little folks can get it.”

Yeah. In case you all haven’t noticed, the shelf has been knocked over, the “folks” aren’t so “folksy” or “little,” and I, for one, have never been a fan of jam. Perhaps we can symbolically bury this with the understanding that if The Observer is truly intent on “observing Texas,” and becoming a beacon of progressive, intellectual thought by and for all Texans, it must commit to change. Now. I, for one, will participate in the conversation even when it’s searingly uncomfortable. I’m done throwing rocks and ducking chingazos. Ándale, pues: Let’s get to it.

 

*The quote, verbatim is: “Put the jam on the bottom shelf so the little man can reach it.”

A former Austin resident and a past Texas Observer contributor, Belinda Acosta is now a second-year Ph.D. student in the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.