- Texan Identities: Moving Beyond Myth, Memory, and Fallacy in Texas History ed. by Light Townsend Cummins and Mary L. Scheer
This collection of essays from Texas State University alumni offers fresh perspectives on the well-worn topics of Texas myth, memory, and identity. The editors begin with two related assumptions: that Texans possess “distinctive identities defining what it means to be Texan” (3), and that “these identities flow from myth and memory” (3), some true and some not. They begin with the dominant image of the Anglo-American male individualist and then challenge it, noting that what it means to be “Texan” cannot be defined in those terms. The essays that follow expose not only the true diversity of Texan identity but also the historical fallacies that underlie the denial of that diversity.
In the opening chapter Stephen L. Hardin reflects on the central icon of Texas myth and memory, the Alamo, concluding that while the myth is complex, true honor, virtue, and patriotism lie at the core of its identity. Mary L. Scheer challenges the all-male Texan identity with an innovative interpretation of the status of women in the Texas Constitution of 1836. Though perhaps close to arguing that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” she offers a creative, thought-provoking reminder that women like Jane Long, Angelina Peyton Eberly, and Pamelia Mann deserve to define Texas identity as do their male counterparts. Jody Edward Ginn tackles roots of the resilient Texas Ranger mystique, noting that updating the examination of evidence and interpretations is key to a better understanding of the meaning and historical legacy of this storied force. Kay Goldman examines the evolution of Texan identity among German Jewish immigrants. She disputes the fallacy, held by some, that there were no Texas Jews prior to the late nineteenth century. She concludes that by allowing Jews freedom to claim their German identity, Texas enabled them to influence Texan identity. Light Cummins highlights a vital and long overlooked facet of Texan memory and identity in a chapter on San Antonio patron of the arts, Ethel Tunstall Drought. Certainly, the names McArdle, Coppini, Ney, Onderdonk, Bywaters, Reaugh, and Lea are considered distinctly Texan. Cummins’s essay emphasizes the role of [End Page 93] women’s clubs and individuals like Ethel T. Drought in developing Texas’s urban identity and its justifiable prominence in the arts, especially the visual arts. Patrick Cox’s essay on South Texas rancher and capitalist W. W. Jones shows that Texan identity is much broader and more complex than myth and memory allow. Gene B. Preuss’s essay on the legacy of Delgado v. Bastrop, a civil rights case involving segregation of Mexican American students in Texas, provides a fitting conclusion to this anthology. It begs the question: Is there a ‘Texan’ identity? The essays in this book answer a resounding no. There never has been. In recognizing discrimination as a major factor in the portrayal of Texan identity, Preuss rightfully observes that the story of the Delgado case opens up not only many questions of Texan identity but new avenues of historical investigation as well.
History, it is often said, is written by the winners. Myths develop around both the dominant and the excluded elements in society. Combining reexamination of Texas’s most enduring touchstones—the Alamo, the Texas Rangers, the cattle rancher—with exploration of aspects of Texas history that have been subject to exclusion or fallacy, this book provides a good starting place for moving beyond myth, memory, and fallacy, and for describing the modern Texas identity.