There Is Texas and Then There Are Texans, Like My Mom

Gov. Greg Abbott seems to think he’s running a state I don’t recognize — because it’s a fantasy of political convenience. I haven’t seen my mom in person since October 2019. My family is in New York. She’s in Texas.

She works retail down there. Children’s clothing store. They were closed for a bit last March, April, and May, but the corporate office reopened stores in early summer with strict protocols on mask-wearing and cleaning. She tells me not one customer has walked in without wearing a mask. “Everyone has been so respectful.”

She’s in her early seventies. “Ross, you know I love to work,” she says.

She hasn’t been vaccinated yet, but she’s registered, and she’s just waiting for a date. She tells me she just got an email about it from the county. She thinks she’ll get scheduled next week.

I received my first dose on Tuesday because I have a qualifying comorbidity. And because I don’t live in Texas.

I worry about Mom. I miss her, and I miss Texas, but I don’t miss “Texas”—not the one that you’ve seen on the news the last couple of days after the statewide mask mandate was lifted by Gov. Greg Abbott.

I don’t miss it because I’ve never seen it. That place doesn’t really exist. A great maskless populace looking to their governor for the go-ahead? It’s a construct that the media and social media and politicians promote.

There is the state of Texas, a myth of “coal-rolling” pickup trucks and guns everywhere and general excess and not being messed with. And then there is Texas, one of the most diverse states in the country, one of the most beautiful, and one of the, yes, friendliest. There are Texans who offend in all sorts of ways, sure (including by refusing to wear masks), but they are outnumbered.

For instance, when you see news reports about this mask mandate being lifted, you might picture millions of people in Texas taking off their masks and not ever putting them on again. But it’s not like that. I know it’s not like that because I know lots of them and because I used to be one of them. And because I hear from a key eyewitness it’s just not the case.

“Everyone is wearing a mask around here. I saw one teenager not wearing a mask,” says my mom. “And sometimes people don’t cover their noses. People are still going to wear masks.”

Texas isn’t an anti-mask state. Millions of Texans are wearing masks every day, and millions will continue to wear them. Because they love their families and they love their neighbors. And they want to stay healthy.

I think one of the reasons people are so disgusted by government right now, both state governments and Congress, is not because of dysfunction and not because so many members of these bodies have proven themselves to be terrible people. It’s because they attempt to speak for us. We become “Texans” and “the American people.”

I always think, “Maybe your America, cowboy. But not mine.” Because each of us belongs to our own America, and our own Texas or California or Florida or Wyoming or Maine. I like my mom’s version of my home state. “Everyone is so respectful” in her Texas. I bet your version of your state is a great place, too.

Greg Abbott’s Texas isn’t home to me. When I imagine it, I don’t think of the desert mountains of Big Bend or the spectacularly beautiful pink-granite Capitol building in Austin or the quiet, leafy neighborhood I grew up in five minutes from downtown Dallas. Greg Abbott thinks he’s the governor of that Texas, bless his heart. But he isn’t. Greg Abbott’s Texas is a dark, strange place, and I’d prefer that he not impose it on everyone else. Not just because it doesn’t truly represent the state I know but because it’s deadly.

I miss my mom. I worry about the next few weeks for her. But she says she’s sure that her company will maintain the protocols. And that her customers will be respectful.

I believe they will. Because they’re Texans.

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