ustxtxb_obs_2004_12_03_50_00027-00000_000.pdf

Page 19

by

an issue of the spirit. Truth is, I always wanted to believe one part of the Texas myth: that we, mythically more “West” than even California, Arizona, New Mexico, or other states, have a greater understanding of what it is to be a “land of freedom,” to be “American.” Steeped in the legends of cowboys, roaming cattle, vaqueros, and camp fires on the range, and surrounded by unending farm roads, with cities that are miles and miles apart, I’ve wanted to believe that we know much more about what it means to be “free.” Whether we own part of the land or simply work it, much as my family and I have in our history with the state, “freedom” takes on new meaning when the ability to roam seems unending. And in my Texas heart, I always wanted to believe that an expansive understanding of freedom, based on our great stretches of geographic possibility, would be the foundation for commitment to the true American waythe always-wishedfor ideal symbolized by the flag flying before my mother’s door. And it is against the backdrop of that mythical expansive understanding of freedom, which should be ingrained in every Texan, that I find my state lacking. I don’t find that expansive understanding of who we are in too many places anymore. I fear that as we’ve urbanized we’ve become no different than people anywhere else. Wherever I go, I feel my own vision of the myth unraveling daily. On a drive through Central and East Texas, I watch entire families sit together talking as if nothing has changed across the country. At a caf, a woman, her silver-white hair coiffed smartly, points with her fork as she speaks. The others listen with amused interest. I can’t hear her voice, just see her from a distance. At one end of the table the childrenher grandchildren?whisper to each other then laugh, then look up at her as she speaks more firmly to get their attention. Soon, she has the entire group entranced, a strong grandmother at the helm of her table. It occurs to me for a second, quietly watching: Do they understand the freedoms we’ve lost with the passage of the Homeland Security Act? I watch their happiness for a second, as they sit together at their table, apart from the world. And then I wonder if it’s a fair question to raise. I remember when the Chief Immigration Judge ordered closed deportation proceedings, and Ashcroft reduced government compliance with Freedom of Information Act requests. And then the litany of other changes overwhelms me: expanded wiretap powers with reduced judicial review, “sneak and peak” searches authorized without a warrant, and a broader definition of domestic terrorism that allows surveillance of “political dissenters.” Then I begin to wonder if, at any time in our daily lives, any of usthat family or minereally had time to assess the effect of those actions on an open democracy and our core American notions of privacy. And when our President designated an American citizen as an “enemy combatant,” authorized him to be placed under military jurisdiction, and then refused him the ability to communicate with his family, with a lawyer, or with any non-military personnel for 18 monthswhat could this family have thought about it? I look across the table to see if the fork shakes just a little, to see if the voice wavers just a second as this good American familythis good Texan familylaughs once more. Another pause. Another forkful. Nothing happens. 0 n a long-distance bicycle ride across West Texas some time back, a farmer on a tractor with his son alongside him drives out to the side of the road and waits for me with cold water in hand. I stop and stand, leaning on my bicycle alongside the road to speak with them. His son shades his face against the setting sun as he asks me where I’m headed. His father, farmer’s hands solid and burnt from days of work on his land, looks down at his son’s open face admiringly and lovingly, proud of his confident and true interest in someone just passing by. I felt nothing but good from them, these fellow Texans, standing alongside the road that early evening. The water was cool and satisfying and for that moment, looking at the son as I told him about my trip and at his father’s face as he looked at him, I forgot about my family’s history. I felt as much a part of Texas as I ever hadwelcomed by those I considered a part of the land, out beside an open field; honest and true people. I remembered them again recently when the story surfaced about internal documents advising the president that he could disregard U.S. and international law and order the torture of foreign prisoners, and that interrogators following the president’s orders would be immune from punishment. I thought of that farmer’s son, pure of face, the love of his working father showering down upon him on the side of a Texas road. I thought about how they treated mea stranger passing by for only a minutetheir graciousness, water in hand, conversation and curiosity ever ready. Do they, as good Texans, wish the harm and torture of other human beings on their hands for whatever purpose? Does the coiffed lady at the restaurant, surrounded by family, want them to know that she quietly spoke through dinner about other things, knowing what her country was contemplating and justifying? Do they know, in their hearts, how far the country has gone or is in the process of going? \(And why do I get the feeling that they And if they don’t, why aren’t we, knowing what we do about expansiveness and freedom, yelling at them to wake up? Why aren’t we, on behalf of the Great State of Texashead above the trees, honor up to our shoulders, spanning from the Mexican to the Canadian border with all our pride intact, good and pure, honest to a fault, crying out for justice for allwhy aren’t we yelling to be heard: “My country, Oh my… ’tis a-drifting?” Ruperto Garcia currently practices law in San Antonio. He is a former staff writer for the Observer and just finished a book of short stories entitled Summer of the Salamanders and is in the process of searching for a publisher. 12/3/04 > THE TEXAS OBSERVER 27