The Education of Mi Hijita

My daughter is only two, but I’m already planning to teach her what it means to be a Texan—and a Tejana.
SANTOS
Photograph by Sarah Lim

Her Texas story began with relámpagos de calor.

The night I learned I would become a father, I was getting ready for a dinner party. It was August 2009, in the midst of a historic South Texas drought and a mounting global economic collapse, so some mood leavening was in order. Since our dinner companions were all buoyantly childless, the revels would begin at twilight, go on for hours, and be relatively carefree. I’d finished dressing and was sending a few last emails when my wife, Frances, came to show me the wand of her pregnancy test, from which a blinking indigo plus sign shot forth like the beacon of some superhero.

I hadn’t ever really planned on becoming a father. It had always seemed vaguely presumptuous to take on imperial authority over the formation of offspring. Like many of my closest friends, I didn’t become a parent until well into the tale, in my case when I was about to turn 52. After we had married the year before, Frances and I had decided to leave the matter to nature, and nature’s ineluctable ways had made the process almost inadvertent. Yet the result was indisputable. After a lifetime of wandering far from home, I would be raising a Texan. Like the coho salmon, I had swum upstream to my birthplace to spawn.

I had returned to San Antonio a few years before, in 2005, after a long exile, most recently in New York City. I’d lived there for 22 years, but I was never a committed New Yorquino, always subscribing to Hill Country storyteller Hondo Crouch’s sage observation that “New York’d never amount to anything because it was too far.” I spent much of my time traveling, making documentaries all over the world, studying and writing. Yet I was rooted in South Texas. The lauded mystique of America’s Northeastern Brahmins could never match the millennial, epic story of the world I came from. All that Yankee lore seemed like the glorified preoccupation of newcomers.

But I didn’t really become Texan until I left. Growing up, I was likelier to be called “meskin” or “greaser”; outside the Lone Star State, the extranjeros would invariably see me as Texan, maybe because I was always shod in Tony Lamas. As I wore out my boots in each of my faraway redoubts, it became a habit to deposit them as mementos in the local river—the St. Joseph; the Cherwell and Thames; the Spree, after a spell in Berlin; and finally the East River, in New York City. Just before leaving, I would fill my boots with discarded writings and a few personal effects, tie them together, and drop them into the waters, to settle into

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