In 1835, after once again losing a bid for Congress, the “King of the Wild Frontier” Davy Crockett uttered a phrase that would later become the unofficial slogan of the Lone Star State: “You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas.”
As a Texan myself, I, too, share Crockett’s overwhelming affection for the state and its bluebonnets, cowboy boots and Friday night football games. When one of my first-year suitemates messaged me on Facebook that she planned on visiting Dallas with her grandparents in a few days, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to show off my city and state.
In order to provide the native-Chicagoan with a true Texas experience, I brought her to a traditional barbeque restaurant, owned by country singer Pat Green and decorated with beer cans arranged to depict the Texas state flag.
However, the moment we stepped inside the restaurant, I panicked. For the first time, I viewed Texas through the lens of an outsider, and I feared that my restaurant choice implied that I rode horses, wore Stetsons and frequented honky-tonks. While a few disciples of John Wayne still roam the Fort Worth stockyards, Dallas — and much of Texas — has modernized into a hub for business (thanks to no state income tax, a vestige of the lawless Wild West) and has become a beacon for young professionals, according to a CNBC study of the best cities for people under 35.
Despite this progress, an ugly racial history clouds Dallas along with the rest of Texas. In 1910, a mob of Dallasites lynched 65-year-old black Allen Brooks after accusations circled that Brooks had raped a three-year-old girl. The Confederate War Memorial, a quick three-minute walk from Dallas City Hall, honors Generals Robert E. Lee, Albert Johnson and Stonewall Jackson along with Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis. Attempts to remove the monument by the city council failed as citizens propagated the Lost Cause mythology and championed heritage over equality.
As the hostess ushered us to our table, my dual anxieties about both meeting my new suitemate and the perception of Texas as a bleeding red state with a checkered history swirled in my mind. However, after a brief survey of the menu, my suitemate began to ask questions about the clubs I had joined in high school, my friends and how we should decorate our common room.
Suddenly, the tension in my shoulders dissipated, and we chatted about innocuous topics such as Shawn Mendes’ new album and our favorite desserts. But after we established a comfort with one another, we began to probe the questions we initially feared to say aloud but desperately wanted answers to.
Did I own a gun? No. Did my parents vote for President Donald Trump? No. Was it always this hot in Texas? Yes. Is Texas barbeque better than North Carolina barbeque? Hell, yes.
My suitemate then admitted that many of her peers in Chicago perceived Texas as a foreign universe, teeming with AK-47s, “Make America Great Again” hats and Christian radio stations. I responded that Texan pride often metamorphoses into a judgmental assessment of other cities and cultures. In fact, many Texans would scoff at even leaving the state for more than a few days.
Today’s political polarization has exacerbated the divide between the metropolitan, liberal areas and the rural, conservative South. As one half of the nation devours Sean Hannity and Fox News and the other scrolls through The New York Times and The Huffington Post, the schism deepens to such a degree that we no longer have an interest in understanding one another.
A 2016 survey conducted by the News showed that of the 2,054 respondents, nearly 75 percent believed that Yale’s campus was not welcoming to conservative viewpoints and only 11 percent of students identified themselves as “conservative” or “very conservative.”
As a proud liberal from the state of Texas, I have more than often stood against the majority on issues ranging from political correctness to female reproductive rights, and I have learned how to communicate constructively about polarizing topics. While I may not agree with many of the sentiments of Yale’s conservative cohort, I empathize with the 11 percent who feel excluded from political discourse.
The students of the Class of 2022 will bring a myriad of perspectives, cultures and histories to campus in the upcoming few days, and I encourage my fellow first-year students to appreciate this diversity and to welcome each student with the same courtesy and openness that my suitemate showed me.
Mary Orsak is a first year in Pierson College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .