Written by Sam Chavez.
Graphic by Peyton Cabaniss.
“Keep Austin weird.” Austin is one of the stranger metropolitan areas around, and it definitely has the sights to prove so. I decided to challenge myself and gave the city a bit of a walk-through for a day, aimlessly wandering and letting the streets guide me. Initially, I was struck by the artistic, natural, and architectural scenery. However, as I got deeper into the heart of the city, I stumbled across the city’s subliminal areas — notably, the political side.
Before I wandered through the city, I normally pictured and associated Austin with scooters, bikes, and heavy traffic. When I took the time to really admire the city, however, I became amazed by Austin’s aesthetic.
One of the most obvious quirks of the city are its murals and graffiti. While some are elaborate, others are more pedestrian. Nevertheless, they were all an expression or a creative outlet of their designers.
A particular theme I noted was the connection between city and nature; in some cases, the two seemed intertwined. In others, there was clearly a communal effort– from volunteers at the Deep Roots Garden– to connect people with organic foods.
On my stroll, I decided to pass through the capitol. The building itself gave off a sense of self-importance– as if it knew its own significance. It was elaborately decorated, which seemed flashy enough, but I felt that there was more to explore beyond its high ceilings and elaborate staircases. I made my way outside to see what people were up to.
One man on the south side of the building caught my attention, or rather, his Confederate flag caught my attention. With the infamous Trump cap and flags by his side, he seemed ready for confrontation.
He seemed distracted, so I followed his gaze to a statue of an armed figure mounted on a horse– a stereotypical image of Texas honor. Upon further inspection, I realized it was the Terry’s Texas Rangers Monument, a statue erected in 1907 in commemoration of the Eighth Texas Cavalry (a group of Texas volunteer fighters for the Confederacy).
Before I could stop myself, I proposed a question to the man: “Why do you carry that flag?” His response threw me off guard: “I’m an Evangelist.” According to him, he is devoted to Jesus. After sharing his religious beliefs, he tried pressuring me to pray with him, almost like an effort to control the conversation. To him, Confederate soldiers were heroes of America just as Jesus is a hero of Christianity. In his history book, these “brave” men did not own slaves because “plantation owners didn’t fight in the war.” I raised a brow and turned my attention back to the Terry’s Texas Rangers Monument once more– ironically, the same monument commemorating a group led by a notable sugar plantation owner.
“What about Union soldiers? How are they not heroes?”
He must have noticed my gaze because he ignored my question and brought up his next point: “We’re tearing down heroes.” To him, removing Confederate statues would condemn America to “hell.” That must have been the last straw for nearby pedestrians because I was soon surrounded by a small crowd of mostly left-winged individuals. They too asked him, “Why?” Once more, he tried intimidation. He referred to me as a “snowflake” and tried coercing prayer on the crowd; however, they too refused. One woman was a Trump supporter herself, but even she could not understand his views– especially the religious ones.
Another person who stood out to me the most was a woman from New Jersey named Pam. She tried to poke holes in the man’s beliefs, but to no avail, he only grew agitated. Clearly disgusted, she told the man that she was there to talk, not to be attacked. With that, she was the first to disperse. One by one, the crowd dwindled until I was the last one standing. I bid the man farewell and we went our separate ways. On my way out, I ran into Pam again, and we had a good laugh about the ordeal. Although we were joking about aspects of the situation, I could see legitimate worry in her eyes as she wondered out loud, “I don’t understand how people can be like this….” We wished each other a good day and parted ways.
While I could admire the city’s beauty solely through art, nature, and architecture, I had the chance to experience Austin’s unpleasant side– where symbols like statues and flags contrast with the rest. To me, this experience served as a reminder that where there’s progression, there is regression. Although contradictory, maybe that is what makes Austin “weird.”