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Texas looks to future to guide its past

Texans think very highly of Texas. This has always been the case, at least in my experience, but during a recent trip to Austin I noticed a deeper development: Texans are beginning to come to terms with their state’s history — and they are less concerned about past misdeeds than about future achievements.
The relevant “monument” in Austin at the moment is Tesla’s new headquarters and factory, called Giga Texas, which is still under construction. When complete, it is promised to be almost one mile long, and it is already so big it is difficult to see all at once. Meanwhile, about 90 miles southwest and almost 200 years into the past, plans are proceeding for a $400 million renovation of the Alamo site, even though the project would disrupt older burial sites, including for indigenous peoples. That too is Texas at work.
I am a fan of Texas and have long been a booster of its prospects. I also live in Virginia, and can’t help but notice the difference in the treatment of the historical.
Consider the state flag, which is on display everywhere in Texas. In fact it is reputed to be the best-selling state flag, and can be found on items ranging from bikinis to boots, even though it represents a history every bit as fraught as Virginia’s. Texas had slavery both before and after it joined the Union, and the flag dates from 1839. Nor did Texas treat Native Americans well, especially during its period as an independent nation.
The veneration of the Texas flag stands in stark contrast to the flag not only of Virginia but also of the Confederacy, which was once flown prominently in both states but is now socially unacceptable to display anywhere.
Context, however, is all important, so I can accept this difference in flag traditions. As Texas continues to boom, its core story is being retold. The new Texas narrators — such as the startup crowd and real-estate developers — treat the past as bygone and adopt a more forward-looking perspective. They ask which regions and political units, victimised groups included, will do the most for America.
That may feel like dodging crucial questions about historic injustice, but consider Texas’s recent record of job creation and inward migration. The Texas approach has passed a market test by attracting and keeping significant numbers of minorities. By one measure, people of colour account for 95% of Texas’s population growth since 2010. That too is a kind of restitution.
A visitor to Texas also can’t help but ponder questions about land rights. It is now common practice for universities and companies, especially in blue states, to make “land acknowledgements,” decrying the thefts of their current real estate from indigenous tribes. Yet there is rarely serious talk about giving those lands back — never mind giving indigenous peoples a share in Harvard’s hedge fund income or Microsoft’s dividends.


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