What it Means to be Texan (Spring 2024)

Past Matters Spring 2024; posted on 2/16/2024

Greetings, and the very best wishes for a happy and prosperous 2024!

Over the last few months, I have had the opportunity to be in multiple conversations about what it means to be a Texan, especially as we continue to broaden our community of folks that are passionate about and interested in preserving Texas history. How do people see themselves in Texas history, or do they? As an immigrant to this country, who made Texas my home thirty years ago, I am taking the liberty to offer some of my own story here and share with you why I do the work I do and love every minute of it!

I grew up in India, on a steady diet of “Western” films and novels by Louis La’Amour, believe it or not (courtesy my father and grandfather). I had a vision of the old west, with tumbleweeds and cowboys on horses, that fascinated me. When I came to Texas from India in 1994, I did not feel like I was in a completely new, unfamiliar place because of how much I had come to know Texas through films and books, though I definitely was disappointed not to see horses on the streets!

After completing graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin, my husband and I had the wonderful opportunity to stay and make Austin our home. The bug of public service bit me right out of graduate school, and I found myself working for a national land conservation nonprofit to preserve Texas landscapes. The ability to connect with this land through the work I did offered me a bond with Texas that many others in my position may not have necessarily had. I felt a certain level of ownership in preserving the legacy of Texas.

Several years later, when I had the opportunity to come work at the Friends of the Texas Historical Commission to preserve the real places and real stories of Texas, it was a natural progression on the path I had been on for the twenty-plus years before that.

I share these thoughts with the very keen awareness that Texas, as it is growing, looks very different demographically today than it did even thirty years ago. There are generational Texans – descendants of early settlers as well as those that were brought here, who carry forward the legacy of their ancestors and of Texas past for future generations. Then there are those who came to the state within the last 125 or so years, made Texas their home, and through the course of their lives added new stories to pass on. Their children, born in this state, are native Texans, but the richness of their identities is complex, a blend of their cultural backgrounds and their native Texan roots.

All of these Texans, generational as well as newly arrived, with their varied stories and perspectives, are part of the rich and complex tapestry that is Texas history. As I tell my native Texan children, we need to claim a place in this history and do what we can to preserve it and share the stories forward. That is our responsibility.

I believe very strongly that Texas history has the capacity to pull all of these varied stories and perspectives into its fold, it has the fortitude to acknowledge the incredible triumphs as well as the many tragedies that are part of what makes this incredible state what it is, and it has the generosity to share all of these stories, without fear or favor, with our current and future generations. ALL Texans can claim a place in Texas history, but this dream will not be realized until everyone can see themselves in the narratives of our past. This is why our vision at the Friends of the Texas Historical Commission is that everyone has a place in Texas history.

The Texas of the future will look quite different from what it did thirty years ago. We at the Friends of the Texas Historical Commission are committed to ensuring that the stories that are passed on include the richness, depth, complexity, and variety of Texas history that future generations can identify with and see themselves in. This is why we work closely with the Texas Historical Commission to ensure that all of Texas history is preserved for posterity.

I consider it a privilege to be able to do the work that I do here at the Friends of the Texas Historical Commission, with partnership and support from the incredibly committed leadership and staff at the Texas Historical Commission. And I am deeply grateful to you, our friends, for your support. Your gifts help us preserve the stories and histories of all Texans, so we can continue to build community through storytelling. We look forward to your continued support!

On behalf of the Board of Trustees and the staff of the Friends of the Texas Historical Commission—warm regards and best wishes!

Anjali Zutshi, Executive Director