212 San Antonio, TX: Not Crossing the Line


"[Texas is the] place where there are the most cows and the least milk and the most rivers and the least water in them, and where you can look the farthest and see the least." - H.L. Mencken
(Philip Sheridan put it more bluntly: "If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent out Texas and live in Hell.")
On the way back into town from the missions, I stopped at Espuma Coffee and Tea Emporium in a converted old house with wood siding painted pastel orange, where I interviewed two Hispanic ladies working the counter. The short, stocky, older one was stuffed into a gray long-john T-shirt and had a round face with big dark eyes. The younger one bore a tan-and-teal sweater that complemented her dark brown skin.

The older one stared blankly at my question, "I have no clue who Hopper is."

"I'm sure you do," the younger one countered. "Nighthawks," she pointed out, "is his famous one of the café at night."

"Oh," the older one glissandoed. "That's one I know. Yeah, that's it; that's San Antonio," she sighed. "It's like that within your own family here. I speak for myself. I live on the street, and literally my brother lives one house over on the other side. I wouldn't know. I never see him.

"I grew up in that neighborhood. I know my neighbor. But we don't mix. We don't socialize." [Her coworker nodded.] "We know who each of us are. 'Oh yeah, I know them.' But if someone asked me, 'What do they do?' I don't know. You know everybody, but you isolate yourself from them.

"Personally, I venture out on my own. So I came this far, to this neighborhood where I work. And I will continue to venture out. [but] As far as the average person here, they're very close-minded. I tell people where I work, and they've never been there."

"You mean," the younger one asked me, "like everybody in their own space? Like they might sit right next to each other but be separate? I don't think I've ever thought about it like that. I think of it as people are close-minded. Like, 'me me me.' Their lives are not changing. I find it not challenging for a big town. Usually," she added, "when you do meet someone who has been somewhere, like different cities or states or countries, they're not from here." ["They're not originally from here," the older one echoed.] "My parents are very different [than me]. They're not that familiar with Texas. They don't even know what we have here. I really do like the downtown area, but I think it's for tourists. That's not for the locals.1

"You can get ethnic food here now," she brightened. "We're not picky, but people here won't try it. We don't even have a place that shows independent films. And even then, it's like two or three films. Because people don't want to have to think here. They want to pick one and just go. They stick to what's known."

The older one agreed, "Right, exactly, with everything, culture, everything. They don't cross that line."

1"San Antonio is for tourists" is the tourism board's motto.

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