What Nobody Says About Austin

Is Austin the state’s most segregated city?
Casey Dunn

When I moved to Austin in the fall of 2008 to teach at the University of Texas, I was the envy of nearly everyone I knew. Wasn’t it the coolest city in the state? The country? Quite possibly the earth?! Yet still I was dragging my feet, which many Austinites found offensive (ever tried arguing with one about the superiority of any other place?). I’d lived previously in Brownsville, San Antonio, El Paso, and Houston, and I’d visited Austin countless times as a contributor to this magazine. But I’d always found it wanting in a way that was significant to me: it was the first place in my home state where I was frequently aware of my ethnic difference. Those other Texas cities had their own racial and class problems, sure, but they all had vibrant Latino communities, and they were cities where I could experience myself as both a Tejana and a Texan, an American who was Latina. By contrast, sometimes when I had lunch with my editor in downtown Austin I noticed I was the only non-white patron in the restaurant. Things weren’t much better at UT, where the faculty was just 5.9 percent Latino (and just 3.7 percent African American). I had to ask myself, In a city where Hispanics made up over a third of the residents, why were they so hard to find? 

Austin prides itself on its cultural liberalism and sophistication, but given the invisibility of Latinos, it irked me that the city was obsessed with Latin American culture. Austin’s fixation with tacos and migas and queso (“kay-so”) seemed to me a way for locals to fetishize a world most of them didn’t regularly engage with. When I went salsa dancing downtown, a few times a white guy would sashay up to me with a sultry “ Ho-la, ¿quie-res bailar conmigo?” and I had to explain that I spoke English. I also felt persistently overdressed. When invitations called for “Texas chic” or “Austin cool,” I invariably wore the wrong clothes. Once, I showed up at a beautiful Hill Country ranch wedding in a long summer dress and stilettos when all the women were in knee-length frocks and sandals or wedge shoes they could manage the rocky grounds in. I’d never even worn flip-flops out of the house! 

I bought a condo in southwest Austin, in a neighborhood with a nice mix of natives and newcomers. For some reason, the area

More Texas Monthly

Loading, please wait...