Texas shows the country its own future. Whether it’s demographic shifts, climate change or even space exploration, Texas is a barometer for the rest of the United States and reveals what likely lies ahead. So, with that in mind we wanted to ask, what’s the future of Texas? We spoke to six Texans of different backgrounds, generations, and fields of influence about what’s next.
Dan Rather, The future of the state of Texas
Earl Campbell, The future of sports in Texas
Adrian Quesada, The future of music in Texas
C.K. Chin, The future of the hospitality industry in Texas
Lina Hidalgo, The future of public health in Texas
Cruz Ortiz, The future of art in Texas
Dan Rather Journalist
There’s something in the Texas spirit: we always have our eyes on the far horizon or what’s beyond the horizon. And journalism offers even at the most menial beginning jobs, the possible prospect of adventure: faraway places with strange-sounding names.
Texas’s future depends, more than any other single thing, on education, particularly public schools.
This will show my Texas bias. As you know, I’m fond of saying that I’m not just from Texas, I am of Texas. I do wonder, as we get deeper into the twenty-first century and as Texas becomes increasingly urban, that the sort of sense of being tied to the land may be disappearing. I hope not.
I was raised believing that to understand Texas and Texans, you [must] understand you’re tied to the land. One of my first memories is of my grandmother Page, when I was maybe six years old. She lived down in Bloomington, Texas, which is down there near Victoria. It was very black loam, the land. “Danny,” she said, “put your hands in the dirt. Put your hands in the land and feel it. That’s Texas.” And it was deep within her. When I tell that story in other parts of the country, sometimes people’s eyes roll. But I do believe it to be true. I was raised in that generation, and I think that held to a certain degree all the way through the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century—this sense of being tied to the land. But I’m not sure that’ll hold as we go along.
In Texas, a lot of people don’t want to talk about climate change; they don’t want to think about climate change. But if you’re going to think about the future of the state, if you care about the future of your state, it’s not an option. It is imperative that we talk about climate change and that we meet that now. Tied in with that is how do we innovate our way out of such a dependence on the fossil fuel industry—basically, the oil and gas industry.
The fossil fuel industry has more or less defined the state since Spindletop [when oil gushed in 1901] well over 100 years ago. And so we have to wrestle with that question. Then again there doesn’t seem to be the political will of those who hold political power to be thinking about how we innovate our way back. They think we’ve been this way for 100 years and we’re going to be at it this way for another 100 years. Well, I don’t think that’s true. I think we better start innovating. What happens to Texas in the future has a lot to do with how we innovate our way out of the fossil fuel thing.
There’s something in the Texas spirit: we always have our eyes on the far horizon or what’s beyond the horizon
One of things I talk about when you talk about Texas’s future is water. We have seldom even tried to have a statewide water conservation plan. The projections on climate change, which our scientists have put forward to us, say that vast sections of Texas are going to have much hotter temperatures, much less water and much more need for water than now exists. I don’t know of anybody in our state government or anybody in politics who recognizes, who is really concentrating on the question of what we do about the increasing need for water as we go forward. The population is exploding. The temperatures are getting warmer. Where’s the water going to come from? Obviously, San Antonio, Austin, Houston, we’ve been blessed with a lot of rivers. But we already wasted a good deal of time in trying to get a statewide water plan going. Given my age, I don’t expect to see it. The day isn’t coming. Will we have to pipe water in from Canada to places like South Texas? Some of them could say that’s scare tactics, but I’ve thought about that. If you look at projections of what the average temperatures are expected to be in 2055 and 2065, even as close as that may be, without an effective water plan, it’s not going to be a pretty picture.
Texas’s future depends, more than any other single thing, on education, particularly public schools. I’m a product of public schools, all the way through college. I went to a state university, Sam Houston State University. I never saw the inside of anything other than a public school. I believe firmly in the importance of public schools to the whole national character and national future, but particularly for Texas—its schools have never matched their potential. I hesitate to use the word “great leap forward,” but some real forward movement in improving Texas schools and particularly Texas public schools must happen or Texas’s future is not going to be nearly what it could be. Last time I looked, I think the Texas public school system was rated about 38th in the country. Hell, we’re Texans. We’re not 38th in anything!
Earl Campbell, NFL Hall of Famer
You can always find somebody that’s making decisions in major sports, whether it’s football or basketball or anything, that’s got some kind of ties to Texas. Especially in football; there wouldn’t be such a great NFL if it wasn’t for the players that happen to come through the state of Texas. And as far as our high school and junior high and elementary school sports, in Texas we play. Sports are a big thing to us, to our parents, our children, our children’s children. We’ve just got the genes for it here. People that are born in this state and come to this state, they get that atmosphere in their minds that they’ve got a chance to achieve anything. Texas is just wide open. The opportunities are just so much better for when you want to do things in Texas.
I grew up in Tyler, Texas–like Patrick Mahomes, he’s from my hometown–and I grew up knowing that the University of Texas had a mark against them in not welcoming Black students. The guy that was in the middle of all that was a guy named Darrell Royal. I knew a little bit about right and wrong, but yet and still, I made that decision to come here. And at 18 years old when I made that decision, people was constantly telling me that I was going to flunk out of school. That Darrell Royal was a racist. That I’d never make it. So what I did in my heart was, I made an effort to let Darrell Royal know I wanted to be a friend. I made an effort to let the University of Texas know I wanted to be a friend. I made a decision to let Austin, Texas know that I wanted to be a friend. I figured that my responsibility was to show people that I was a human being and that what I wanted was to be accepted like everybody else. And, you know, it just happened. Because when you win in sports, regardless of what sport it is, you own that team. A lot of things get hid because you’re winning and nobody thinks about the bad things. But I paid that price coming to this university, and now, more minorities are having an opportunity to come here.
The only thing different was that the media back then wasn’t like the media now. People that are not in sports, they don’t understand how all this can be going on in the world, but yet Bill Russell can go win 10 championships. He wasn’t able to stay at the same hotel as the Celtics, or eat at the same table with them. But he still won 10 championships. He won those games, and that proves that human beings can get along regardless of the circumstances. I say Bill Russell because I think that’s one of the greatest examples of what teamwork does. That man gets no credit for it, and I think that’s a shame, because the Bill Russells and those kind of guys, Jim Brown, Jabbar, Muhammad Ali, those people made life so much easier for an Earl Campbell.
I think people have seen now that Kaepernick was trying to tell us what was right.
Now, when Bill Russell did what he did, what Jim Brown and Jabbar and Ali did, they were marked. But I don’t think you can do that anymore. I think the genie has gotten out of the bottle. I think people understand, probably because of what people like LeBron James is doing now and [because of] people like Kaepernick. I think people have seen now that Kaepernick was trying to tell us what was right. And I think because he stood up and LeBron James [stood] up and guys like that, I think the other athletes are saying, “you know what, man? They are right.” But better than the athletes, I think that men in that corporate world had to say, “you know, he’s right. We’re wrong.” It took some time for Kaepernick to get his due. And it was hard, but Roger Goodell, when he stood up and said, “hey, now I understand Kaepernick.” That goes a long way. That’s one of the remarkable things about sports, so I believe: the outlook for the future? It’s going to be great.
Adrian Quesada, Guitarist/Producer, Black Pumas
A quick Google search of the term “Texas music” leads you to a collection of songs featuring—but not limited to— Dale Watson, Lyle Lovett, Willie Nelson… you get the idea. They’re all fantastic artists but something is wrong with this picture. Take this quote from Texasalmanac.com (“the premier reference for everything Texas”): “To many people, Texas music means country.” I love country music, but Texas is so much more than that.
It is long overdue to redefine what is known as Texas music. Country and western swing are obviously two of the most important musical contributions the state has made, but there’s also Tejano, hip-hop, psychedelic rock, blues and more that often go unrecognized as Texan. Many of these forms and artists not in the country genre are huge, like Beyoncé (we all know she transcends genre, time and space!), but they are not always spoken of as Texan.
Texas has a deep, wide musical history. An example of distinctly Texas music is Selena, who outsold the biggest Texas artists at the time. She could only have been created in the Lone Star State—Corpus Christi to be exact, which was established as a city the same year as Austin. Her mix of influences, from cumbia to norteño, hip-hop to pop to country, represents a large swath of our population. And while she is somewhat accurately considered Tejano music or Tex-Mex [by] many, these remain subgenres or categories within Texas music. Hip-hop trailblazers UGK forged their sound with influences from the blues to country to gospel music, and [they] stand alone as an influential group that could not be mistaken for a West Coast or Southern hip-hop group. They represent Port Arthur, and they are as Texas as George Harvey Strait. Little Joe Y La Familia, Gary Clark, Jr., Lydia Mendoza—they’re known as being from Texas, but not typically mentioned as representing Texas.
Lord knows I love Willie as much as the next person, but I think we need to re-examine what makes this state a truly diverse cultural landscape. It’s 2020, a reset year if there has ever been one. A year of striving for progress, representation, smashing prejudice, injustice and oppression, and rewriting the history books from more accurate and inclusive perspectives.
C.K. Chin, Owner of the restaurants Wu Chow and Swift’s Attic
I never would have imagined that my waiters and waitresses and I would be considered frontline workers. But we were there to serve people, to give them reprieve and respite from what’s going on. As we started to do that, I had employees and servers come [to] me with a degree of fear about working through this crisis. We had to make adjustments so they could feel safe. All these restaurants, us and Emmer and Rye and all these places, were providing thousands of meals for the school district because the schools were shut down. We fed all these kids who were without meals during the lockdown. We had food that was going to spoil because we were shut down by the government mandate. But what did we do instead of just shutting down? We fed the community. You know, almost every restaurant was all hands on deck, cooking up what was going to spoil, taking away things that weren’t and passing it out to people who lost their jobs, feeding the community. We packed up 200 bags of care packages. We used our space to 3-D print PPE masks. Hospitality is hospitality, regardless of whether it’s profitable—we’re there to take care of people, and that’s a philosophy and culture that permeates our very being.
There was no need to convince me of the importance of my busser, my dishwasher or all 43 people who get you your meal.
This has inadvertently created a sobering recognition of how valuable labor is and how valuable people are. There was no need to convince me of the importance of my busser, my dishwasher or all 43 people who get you your meal. In businesses, your employees are an asset or an expense. And when you’re “pro-business,” unfortunately, there’s sometimes a kind of dissonance that says to lower your expenses and increase profitability at the expense of the human beings who are your labor. There’s a generation of people who came up working in those ranks, and we’ve now become the owners. We have the empathy and clarity about how valuable our workers are. For instance, our restaurants were [some] of the first that offered health care to our employees, at Swift’s Attic and Wu Chow. Whatever your political views are, this pandemic further proves that health care shouldn’t be tied to employment. It’s crazy that people would have to stay in a job in order to receive health care, and right now, they need health care but they can’t work because the government says businesses are not allowed to open.
The creative people are going to come out of this more creative. They have been thinking about ways to pivot and ways to adapt. I’ll be able to do it, and I think that many of my colleagues will, too. Take Wu Chow, my Chinese restaurant. Chinese takeout is a thing. It’s fine to pivot into a larger take-out model as opposed to a dine-in experience. We probably wouldn’t have picked prime real estate in downtown Austin to do it, but this is the new normal. We have a new game, a new board. All the pieces fell off, so now we get to put them back wherever we want. Before [COVID], if you would have told me that one day Texas was going to sell to-go alcohol, I would have laughed in your face. But now, we made that decision and I don’t think we’re going back. We’re looking forward and taking this opportunity to be intentional.
Lina Hidalgo, County Judge of Harris County
Years from now, long after an effective vaccine has been deployed and the last stay-at-home order [has been] lifted, I hope historians and researchers can look back on this time period as a painful reckoning that ultimately left us stronger. There will be a new normal, but as we yearn for it, we must also honor the lessons that came at such a steep price. The task of rebuilding will require a dispassionate examination of what went wrong and how to fix it.
For decades, Texas failed to invest in public health. It’s unreasonable to expect that an underfunded, decentralized system of local and state agencies, relying on an archaic system, can swiftly test, trace and treat a rapidly spreading virus. We can’t focus on investing in public health only when there is an emergency.
If you look at our experience here in Harris County—home to 34 cities, including Houston—you can see what happens when a community unites to drive down the infection curve. We worked to gain our community’s trust and voluntary compliance with virus-fighting safety orders by openly and consistently sharing the most reliable data and medical advice in real time. When others downplayed the threat in an effort to avoid public panic, we talked with our community honestly, knowing that a united response requires the community’s participation.
And the truth was this: while no corner of our society was spared from the virus’ deadly march, some were hit harder than others. Harris County’s Latino and Black neighborhoods—the ones that had suffered the most neglect from our public health care system—were also the sites of our highest infection, hospitalization and death rates. This data led us to locate more testing sites in the hardest-hit communities in an attempt to isolate the virus and slow its spread. We simultaneously launched targeted public education efforts in those same areas.
Disease isn’t the only threat that disproportionately harms communities of color. In Harris County, we have seen disasters—both man-made and natural—cripple long-neglected neighborhoods. When chemical plants explode and belch toxic black smoke into the air, the children living in homes nearby suffer respiratory illness. When major rain events strike, the elderly folks living in inexpensive, low-lying communities watch helplessly as flood waters overwhelm bedrooms that still haven’t been fully repaired from the last storm.
In Harris County, we are striving to correct these public health inequities, but this is not enough. County government can only do so much to address threats to our collective public health. We need all levels of government in Washington, DC and Austin working strategically from a shared set of basic facts and pulling in the same direction. Instead, we all too often find the public discourse based on poll-driven social media posts rather than scientific research.
What we’ve learned during this time of mounting threats is that if public health policy is intended to prioritize human life, the best time to act is before it seems necessary. Here in Harris County, we’ve pulled through each crisis because of the grit and determination of our residents. Change will take bold decisions guided by science and a willingness to work together in the interest of all citizens, but I believe we will get there.
Cruz Ortiz, contemporary artist
Texas always had a very independent-thinking artistic landscape; it’s at the forefront of what happens in the rest of the United States.
In terms of art, Texas has always done its own thing. This idea of the “third coast” and what has happened with hip-hop and rap artists coming out of Houston [saying], “We’re not New York, and we’re definitely not LA. I think we’re something completely different.”
It’s interesting to think about how that happened with contemporary art. There’s a strong history of performance art in Texas, of sculpture. I’m not sure that there’s a common style, but I definitely think there are thematic things that happen. For example: artworks that really relate to the land here, and artworks about identity; what it means to be here in Texas.
Let’s just say you’re one of those classic Texas artists painting bluebonnet fields. Sure, they’re pretty, but people don’t realize that it’s such a loaded image. They’re actually depicting a landscape that has tons of history, whether it’s Anglo folks coming in or the Spanish versus the Native Americans. But it’s also the combining of those cultures; just an incredible mezcla—the mixture of all these races.
I studied lots of different folk cultures in Texas, and [one of my favorite] examples is that if it wasn’t for one cool, drunk German dude with an accordion and a really cool, drunk Mexican guy with a guitar, we wouldn’t have Tejano music or norteño music. Through that mixing of those beautiful cultures ,we were able to produce something completely new.
Houston is probably the most diverse metropolis. It’s just amazing. I get lost in parts where all you hear are Indian or Asian dialects. So that’s what I think about when I think about Texas. I don’t think about chewing tobacco and John Wayne. John Wayne is so, so out of touch with what Texas means it’s almost embarrassing.
From the 1970s on, there was a huge surge in artworks that dealt with cultural affirmation, specifically with Mexican-Americans, Texas Mexicans. So you have people like Carmen Lomas Garza—folks who were really standing out, putting their necks out by saying, “I think there’s something to be said about representing my community.” And I’ve been noticing a lot of that resurface again.
But culture is something that is constantly growing, and that’s kind of the artwork that I’m interested in—where artists are redefining or re-understanding the past, and asking: what’s the next step? Where are we going now? One of my favorite artists is Mel Chin out of Houston, a person of color who is addressing issues and who understands the history of Texas, but is also going in new directions. I think those things are so important for the state of Texas.