Steer Campaign

For the record, my favorite Bum Steers cover is from way back in 1976. It features Governor Dolph Briscoe smiling and waving from a herd of cattle with the line “Find the Bum Steer in This Picture.” I realize it’s not the most original joke or the smartest image—it’s entirely possible that I’m the only one who finds it funny—but its tone has always struck me as just right when it comes to capturing the spirit of the Bum Steers issue.

Weary Blues

In live music, there aren’t a lot of moves with a higher degree of difficulty than leaving your big hit single off the set list. And Ryan Bingham just stuck the landing. In November, at Holy Mountain—a small Austin club where he was kicking off a winter run of solo acoustic shows—Bingham’s best-known song, “The Weary Kind,” went unplayed.

The Texanist

Q: I have been receiving Texas Monthly as a gift subscription for about four years now. When a new issue arrives, I turn to the back to read your column first. There are usually several laughing matters contained therein. But my son and I often discuss the picture of your little friend, the one with the multicolored sombrero and chicken feet—the little guy always at your side, the one out on a limb for you, carrying the load. Pray, after all this time, tell us more about your miniature sidekick.

The Road From Crystal City

On October 22, 1969, fifty students at the University of Texas at Austin climbed into the stately live oaks and cypresses that offered shade on the campus along Waller Creek and then refused to budge. Frank Erwin, the all-powerful chairman of the board of regents, had ordered the trees taken down to make way for an expansion of UT’s football stadium, and a fierce opposition had arisen. In an op-ed published in the Daily Texan, Alan Taniguchi, the dean of the School of Architecture, condemned Erwin’s decision to remove the trees. “Professionally observed, the environmental quality of our campus is bleak,” he wrote. “Buildings have taken precedence over open spaces, things have taken precedence over people.”

On the morning of the protest Taniguchi arrived to show moral support for the students. Erwin called in campus, city, and state law enforcement officers, who pulled the crusading students from the trees and arrested 27 of them. Soon after, Erwin’s bulldozers knocked down the mammoth trees, and the stadium got 15,000 new seats. To this day, people at UT still speak of “the Battle of Waller Creek.”

The Alan Taniguchi I met at a faculty senate meeting two years later was something of a celebrity. He had an imposing demeanor and was still a stalwart opponent of Erwin’s. To the ire of the steadfastly conservative chairman, Taniguchi spoke out regularly on campus and elsewhere against the Vietnam War. On one occasion he asked two FBI agents to leave the architecture building when he saw them photographing anti-war protesters from a window in the men’s restroom. When Erwin found out, he cut funding to the school of architecture to punish Taniguchi. 

I was attending the faculty senate meeting as a reporter for the Daily Texan. I was twenty years old, from a small town in the Piney Woods of East Texas, and had never before met an Asian person. After the meeting, I approached Taniguchi for a brief interview and asked him about his ancestry. He explained that he was Japanese but born in America. 

“How did you get to Texas?” I asked.

“My family was in camp here,” he said.

“Church camp?” I asked.

“Not exactly,” he said with a laugh.

Taniguchi told me that his father, Isamu, had been interned as a “dangerous enemy alien” in Crystal City during World War II. He explained that his family had been among the tens of thousands of Japanese arrested and incarcerated during the war, nearly two thirds of them American-born. As he spoke, his demeanor was calm, without a trace of self-absorption, but he said that the humiliations visited upon his family and thousands of others had left him skeptical about of government power, especially during wartime. He was a man of courage, which showed in the straightness of his posture and his willingness to take on Erwin. 

A year after our meeting, Taniguchi left UT to head the architecture school at Rice University. In the decades that followed, we saw each other occasionally, and the subject of our conversations inevitably returned to the Crystal City Internment Camp. Unlike many of the other camps throughout the country that have been written about extensively, the Crystal City camp is largely unknown. It opened in 1942 for the purpose of allowing German, Italian, and Japanese fathers who’d been identified as dangerous enemy aliens to be reunited with their wives and children. The Roosevelt administration cloaked the camp in secrecy because hundreds of Crystal City prisoners were being exchanged for American diplomats, soldiers, and missionaries who were being held behind enemy lines in Japan and Germany. Over the decades, that veil of secrecy has never really lifted. 

The last time I saw Taniguchi, in 1995, after he had moved back to Austin, he suggested that the story of Crystal City needed to be told, and he urged me to take on the task. I didn’t give his suggestion much thought, but four years ago, when I was in Austin, I decided to stop by his architecture firm, which is located in a 1930’s bungalow on West Sixth Street. I had recently read Laura Hillenbrand’s book Unbroken, which tells the story of the World War II hero Louis “Louie” Zamperini, an Olympic runner who spent two and a half years in several Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. I remembered Alan’s own wartime trials and wanted to talk to him about the book. His son Evan, also an architect, greeted me and told me that Alan had died in 1998. I wondered how I had missed the news.

I asked Evan what he knew about Crystal City. He admitted that he didn’t know all that much—his father never spoke to him about his experiences at length—but he did give me something he thought I might find useful: a small file his father had kept on the camp. I opened it and saw a list of names of children who were incarcerated there. The children were now old men and women, who lived all over the world. The next day, I started calling them. 

Meanwhile, in Texas . . .

•  A Richmond woman suffering from lingering injuries caused by the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing wrote a lighthearted “breakup note” to her leg before it was amputated.
•  Houston fans of the violent video game Grand Theft Auto were held up at gunpoint while standing in line awaiting the release of the game’s latest edition.
•   A Weatherford bus driver was fired for sunbathing nude next to a middle school.

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