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Lone Star Symbolism: Texas as Separate

The cultural motif of Texas (and Texans) as separate and unique can be illustrated by way of the souvenirs sold at the state’s most visited historical sites. For example, the gift shops in the State Capitol and Bob Bullock Museums sell identification cards which make the owner an ‘Honorary Texan’ and native Texans can buy identity cards which award them the status of ‘Card Carrying Texan’. Tourists to the Alamo and the State Capitol can buy novelty ‘Texas passports’ which allow them access into the ‘country’ of Texas. Printed in gold lettering upon these novelty passports are the words ‘Free and Independent’, underneath the image of the Texas state seal. While these products make no claim to be legitimate identification or travel documents, as Francaviglia (1995, p. 85) suggests they nevertheless remind us that Texas was once another country (during its time as a Republic) and that many still view Texas as somehow separate from the rest of the US. Furthermore, gift shops all over Texas (including those at the historical sites visited) sell ‘secede’ bumper stickers, badges, postcards and magnets. As tourists we learn that Texas might one day return to being a sovereign country.

Similarly, dialectic specificities of Texan pronunciation frequently appear on souvenirs which imply that the Texan accent is different to—and thus separate from—either the American or Southern accent. For example, tourists can buy postcards which offer ‘English to Texan Translations’ or a guide book of Texan phrases called ‘How to talk like a Texan; Texas, it’s like a whole other country’. As Massingill and Sohn (2007, p. 3) suggest, ‘Texas, it’s like a whole other country’, originally written as an advertising slogan to encourage tourism to the state, has now become ‘a synonym for the Texan way of life’. Indeed, the pervasive use of the map of Texas within advertising, tourism and branding is often used in highly specific ways to suggest that Texas is separate or unique. For example, postcards which depict the location of Texas upon a map of the US often enlarge the outline of the Texas border and use phrases such as ‘Texas: Who cares about the rest?’, ‘You can go to hell, I’m going to Texas’ and ‘Howdy from Texas: Where everything is bigger’. Francaviglia (1995, p. 4) has even argued that if Texas were a tribe located in some exotic part of the world, anthropologists would have probably studied ‘their peculiar use of the map’ by now, adding that the popularity of the Texas map is ‘rooted in the perception of the state as a separate geopolitical entity’ (p. 85).

Yet like the slogans ‘Don’t Mess With Texas’ and ‘We Don’t Dial 911’, this perception of separateness should not simply be viewed as a gimmick, conjured up for the purposes of advertising or marketing. Instead, these visible expressions of detachment derive from a historical narrative in which Texas was in many ways separate and unique, the most pervasive symbol being the Lone Star state flag—the design of the current state flag is the same as that which flew over the Republic of Texas before the state was annexed by the US in 1845. Many buildings (not always with a tourist focus) display the ‘six flags over Texas’ to represent the nations that have held sovereignty over the Lone Star State (Spain, France, Mexico, Republic of Texas, Confederate States of America and United States of America).

To display the flags in a series of six explicitly links the current state flag with the notion of separateness; the Lone Star flag represents Texas’s time as a separate Republic rather than as a state within the United States. Indeed, the six flags have been employed within a whole host of advertising enterprises; they can be found in shopping malls, theatres, bars, banks, on the reverse of the Texas State Seal, and there is even a theme park named the Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington. Using the Lone Star flag as a symbol of separateness, whether by way of floor murals, stone engravings or actual flags, is commonplace in Texas.

Indeed, the Texas state flag—and by extension the lone star displayed upon it—is a particularly significant performance of separateness. Not only does it act as a symbol of Texan independence in and of itself, but Texas is supposedly the only state which can fly the US and state flag at the same height. The flag is most certainly a potent symbol, but the act of raising it on a mast is also a public performance; a declaration of remembrance to self-governance and autonomy. In short, to find that Texas is an outlier when it comes to punishment preferences and practices is somewhat less surprising when viewed from this angle. By placing the Texan punishment stories in their wider cultural context, we find that Texan self-identity is—at least in part—founded upon a state narrative in which Texas is separate and unique.

 
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