January 13, 2012

The Lone Star State: Symbols, Place, and Identity

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clip_image001By Janis Prince Inniss

Do you know where this picture of the Christmas tree was snapped? Hint: look at its ornaments; they’re all stars. And look at the building in the background…no, this is not Washington, D.C. The correct answer is Austin, Texas.

As I traveled to, and around a few cities in Texas during the holidays, I was struck by the fact that I was in Texas! Unlike some other American cities which might be substituted one for another, it is hard to forget where you are when in the so-called Lone Star State. There are quite a few emblems that appear practically everywhere.

clip_image004clip_image006One of the primary symbols is the state flag – with that lone star. Do you know your state flag? Do you notice state flags when you travel? Honestly, I’m hard pressed to remember some of the state flags from places in which I have spent considerable time. Maybe it’s a sign that I’m not being as observant as I could be, but I had to use the internet to remind myself of the flag for the state in which I live and some where I previously hung my hat. Not so for Texas. It seems that I saw the Texas state flag at least twice in each mile I traveled—whether on little board crates along the highway or billowing in the wind.

clip_image008clip_image010The star, even when not in the state flag is used in most creative ways: as a 33 foot monument, eight feet off the ground at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, as a door handle, in the key access pad to park at the Texas Capitol, and in many ways at the Capitol including elevator doors. (Actually, the Capitol epitomizes the notion that everything is bigger in Texas, given that it is the largest of all state capitols; only the National Capitol is bigger.) More than 250 feet above the floor of the rotunda in the Texas Capitol, is the Capitol dome – with you guessed it, a star in the center.

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clip_image020The Elevator Pavillion of the Capitol Exension has an open air rotunda with stars all around it.

clip_image022The use of the state’s name as in the name of this establishment indicates that there is something unique about being Texan. Some of what it means to be Texan is to be well acquainted with bar b-que as is evident in the number of bar b-que joints along the freeway.

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Notice the kinds of meats that are being cooked in the second picture—buffalo, elk, venison and jerky. This one location also includes reference to another major Texan symbol—the pecan, the official tree of the state. (I didn’t know there were official trees of each state, but if you’ve visited or lived in Texas you’ve probably noticed that pecans abound; there are even pecan festivals. You’ll see that the state flag is also slightly visible in this picture.

This sign for guns and ammunition is not one you’ll see everywhere. What kinds of factors do you think influence displays like this?

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Another peculiarity in Texas are the water towers that announce your arrival in a new city or town—they are emblazoned with the name, and sometimes a relevant picture. Here are a few:

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Do you know what a tobacco barn is? In Texas, it’s a convenience store for buying tobacco. Sure enough, you can just drive up—like you would at a fast food restaurant—and order tobacco products.

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clip_image040clip_image042This shot at the Darrel K. Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium at the University of Texas at Austin boasts some other major Texan symbols: the star and the longhorn. The longhorn motif is found in many places including as part of the bus stop and street signs on the campus.

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What do all of these symbols—stars longhorns, water towers, tobacco barns, bar b-que, guns and ammunition—tell us about Texas? Who do they tell us about the state’s history, current demographic makeup, or culture? Are these symbols peculiar to Texas or am I just as likely to see them in any other American city? Are there other signs that I missed that are more uniquely Texan? What are symbols that are highly associated with your state? How do these symbols help create a sense of place? Of identity?

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Comments

Good article, though I believe water towers such as the ones you describe are found most everywhere on the prairie. I remember a great one in Harvard, IL, that advertised its town as the home of MILK DAY. Yet because the font wasn't particularly clear, it seemed to me that the water tower proclaimed this small rural Illinois town the home of MLK Day.

As you said yourself, you need to be more observant. As does everyone in this world. Majority of the millions of people aren't aware of the struggles our world is undergoing. Just by being more observant, and noticing the little things, like the state flag of the state you reside in, can change the world if people do something about it.


The use of symbols is not something limited to Texas, just the abundant usage of their symbol made it stand out to the viewer and causes one to take notice. So even if you didn’t know that Texas was the lone star state before you got there, you are sure to know when you leave. Symbols are a way to get you point across without having to say a word. Texans take pride in their status of being the biggest state in the union. They want all who come to visit to know, feel, and see their pride. By using symbols it makes the people who live there have a sense of belonging and pride in the rich history of the state. Having the symbol constantly present in ones view reinforces that bond between you and the state and serves as a steady reminder of what you should stand for.

The practice of using symbols has been around a long time. If we look back in history we will see that every nation has had some form of a symbol that was displayed for the citizens to see and build an understanding off. From the Roman empire's use of the eagle to the Nazi swastika all symbols are the government’s ways of showing status and encouraging the people to feel empowered or fearful of it. As humans we need symbols to help convey our feeling as a young child we learn that a heart means love and some search their whole life looking for fulfillment of the symbol. Symbols are important to us they give us a purpose, without them life would be very dull.

After visiting Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana, the next top destination on my list was Texas. I must say, I love the Sudurn (that’s how you pronounce Southern, right?) culture! People are relaxed and negligee. They stroll instead of rush, look at you in the eye when you pass each other in the street, and are keen on starting and carrying on a conversation with strangers.

Really like the blog, appreciate the share!

Having the symbol constantly present in ones view reinforces that bond between you and the state and serves as a steady reminder of what you should stand for.

Good article, though I believe water towers such as the ones you describe are found most everywhere on the prairie. I remember a great one in Harvard, IL, that advertised its town as the home of MILK DAY. Yet because the font wasn't particularly clear, it seemed to me that the water tower proclaimed this small rural Illinois town the home of MLK Day.

Just by being more observant, and noticing the little things, like the state flag of the state you reside in, can change the world if people do something about it.

Good article, though I believe water towers such as the ones you describe are found most everywhere on the prairie. I remember a great one in Harvard, IL, that advertised its town as the home of MILK DAY. Yet because the font wasn't particularly clear, it seemed to me that the water tower proclaimed this small rural Illinois town the home of MLK Day.

This sign for guns and ammunition is not one you’ll see everywhere. What kinds of factors do you think influence displays like this?

I must say, I love the Sudurn (that’s how you pronounce Southern, right?) culture! People are relaxed and negligee. They stroll instead of rush, look at you in the eye when you pass each other in the street, and are keen on starting and carrying on a conversation with strangers.

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