Over the past two months I had the opportunity to show my friend Lea, an intern from Germany working in my department at Rice, around my hometown, Houston, Texas. The best part about taking her around town was getting to see my home through the eyes of someone with literally no preconceptions about it. I’ve lived in Houston for all of my life other than my three years at Texas A&M. I love my hometown like nowhere else in the world. I have taken visitors from out of town around Houston before, but all of them were Americans and had at least an opinion of Texas, if not Houston itself. Luckily, Lea was in town for a good three months, so I was able to take her to a lot of my favorite places around town.
I first met Lea during lunch the first week of the fall semester. I had seen her around the department occasionally but figured that she was a new American graduate student that I just hadn’t met yet. When I learned that she was actually an undergraduate visiting the US from Germany for the first time, I got extremely excited. Being able to introduce someone to the country for the first time struck a chord with me, and I decided that I would give her the full Houston experience. I knew that there was going to be a pretty wild Tejano-punk concert that weekend and figured that there wasn’t a better way to get introduced to Texas than going to that.
Before the show I took her to Teotihuacan off Irvington and Cavalcade in the Near Northside, the neighborhood my Mexican side of the family is from. My grandfather grew up in the south side of the neighborhood close to where St. Arnold’s Brewery is now, the place where his house was is now in the middle of an intersection in north downtown. My father grew up a few streets down from the restaurant in a house just off Irvington. I grew up north of 610 of the neighborhood, moved to the west side of town for a while, then moved back to the neighborhood during high school. I have a lot of history with this part of town. This restaurant is a favorite of my family’s and has been for a long time. I personally think it is the best Tex-Mex restaurant in town, so going there was a no brainer. It was fascinating watching her eat (weird I know) a cuisine so close to my heart for the first time, turns out she loved it!
We then jumped over to White Oak Music Hall on the south side of the neighborhood, near where my grandfather grew up. The best band of the night was Piñata Protest. The main singer walked up onto stage with an accordion slung around his neck and we were off. I usually dislike Tejano music mostly because of the accordion, but the mix between punk noise making and polka rhythms produced a great sound that I enjoyed a lot. At one point during the show Lea leaned over to me and commented on how similar to traditional German music it sounded, which was awesome to me. Somehow Tejanos incorporated Germanic music to such a degree that a 21st century German native, 180 years removed from the first German immigrants to the state, still recognized it!
I had already known that German culture was pretty influential in the Tejano community, but discussing the amount of overlap with a native German led me to investigate the subject more. There was a large amount of German immigration to Texas and Northern Mexico during the mid 1800s which brought the accordion, polka music, and German style lagers to the region. Apparently the adoption of the accordion was pushed by traveling German salesmen during the 1830s and 40s, who succeeded to such a degree that the local culture adopted it as their own. Polka music and the accordion were integrated into local musical traditions to produce Tejano music and conjunto, the most popular music and dance among Chicanos in Texas.
A more easily recognizable sign of German immigration to Texas is found in the Texas Hill Country. You encounter towns with names like New Braunfels, Fredericksburg, Bulverde, Boerne, and Walburg. The settlements are generally oriented in a north-northwest trend once you hit the Balcones Escarpment, and follow the path that German immigrants sponsored by the Adelsverein, the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas, followed into a land grant negotiated between the settlers and local Comanche tribes between the Colorado and Llano Rivers in central Texas.
The show was one of the wildest I had been to. At one point the music stopped for a good five minutes and everyone looked around trying to figure out what was going on. I didn’t discover the source of the disturbance during the show, and continued to dance and vibe with the crowd. Once we left the show and got to the car, we met a group of people one of whom had gauze wrapped around his head and a fairly serious head wound. He had fallen in the mosh pit during the show, which I had been apart of for a decent chunk of the performance, and had collapsed in the middle of the floor. We spoke to the group for a while and convinced them to take him to the hospital. All in all an interesting night.
Its definitely cliché to say that traveling changes your view of the world, but an underrated way to experience this change of perspective is to show a traveler around your own part of the globe. I was confronted with the strangeness and beauty of my native culture more times than I can count. I took for granted the American and Texas flags everywhere, singing ‘Deep In The Heart of Texas’ during the 7th inning stretch of an Astros game, and driving 9 hours to see the beauty of Big Bend in West Texas. Experiencing these quentessential Texas events with someone encountering them for first time made me love my home even more, while inspiring me to get out and explore the world more myself.