This past weekend, I did something I swore I would never do again – I visited Texas.
I will caveat this with the standard “I know my experience isn’t indicative of anyone else’s, maybe things have changed and I should give Texas another chance, etc.” That being said, the six months I spent living in San Antonio back in 2005-2006 were among the worst of my life. It just wasn’t a friendly place for someone of half-Italian, half-Asian/Pacific Islander descent, because many people saw my darker skin and became very vocal about how they didn’t like “immigrants” (never mind that I’m American) and being from Seattle, it was the first time I’d had to deal with this. Once I’d finished up my military training at Randolph AFB, I left and swore I would never, ever set foot in this state again. I had even told Chuck that if the Navy ever tried to station him there, he would be going as a geo-bachelor.
So what brought me back? A conference – but trust me, I didn’t go willingly. If it wasn’t for the fact that I need a post-graduation job, and that the conference was held in progressive (and weird) Austin, I would have declined the offer.
The conference was fine, though I’m not sure it was the right place for me. Although it was advertised as being for all female MBAs, it was actually for a certain subset within that group: specifically, female MBAs between the ages of, say, 22 to 26 with little-to-no real world experience. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of lovely people there and it made my feminist heart glad to see so many messages of empowerment and cooperation. Yet I felt completely out of place; whenever I tried to share my experiences to the other ladies, I would get blank stares usually followed by a comment about how they personally never had to deal with that, and that their male bosses were always respectful so everyone else must be exaggerating.
Throughout the weekend, we were asked to use a word to describe ourselves. This is where the difference between my background and theirs became most apparent – I consider myself courageous because of what I’d accomplished: I flew for the Navy and helped save lives while putting my own in danger. I consider myself resilient because I overcame MST and the subsequent shaming from my military commanders. I consider myself to be inspirational because I’ve been told that I am, by other assault survivors and by other women from lower-income households who hope to also rise out of near-poverty. To be lumped into the same category as someone who says she’s courageous because “the boys were mean and made me get them coffee” at her undergrad internship… okay, look. I get that courage is relative and that everyone’s experience is personal; I really do understand that. But at the same time, maybe you should wait until you’ve actually encountered a hardship before you start bragging about how brave you are. 23-year-old me would have gotten shut down (and rightfully so) if I’d brought my petty complaints to one of my female senior officers, or a mother with children, or a woman who’d been in the corporate world for a while and dealt with workplace discrimination.
Moving on. The nice thing was that after the conference I did get a chance to walk around Austin, which is a cute little city that reminds me of the West Coast despite being in the heart of Texas. Yes, it was weird, but still a good place to spend a weekend.
We visited the famous Baylor Wall, where you can unleash your inner graffiti artist. This was actually really cool – there was a group that had cleared off a section of the wall to promote awareness of LGBT suicides. Anyone was invited to paint, so we participated by adding our own messages.
It was really inspiring to see so many people come out in support of such an important cause, especially after what happened in Orlando. To see this taking place in an area of the country that traditionally isn’t supportive of alternative lifestyles gives me hope.
Anyway, besides the Baylor Wall, Austin is known for many things – hosting music festivals, its fantastic nightlife, and a bridge full of bats.
Thing is, these bats apparently have a sense of humor. When we tried to see them, we ended up waiting until well after the sun had set, and they never showed up! I pictured them having a good laugh at our expense: “Hey guys! Let’s leave the bridge early before the stupid tourists get here! They’ll be waiting all night for nothing! Hahaha!” Our bat-excursion was unsuccessful, so we gave up and went to 6th Street for a beer.
So, the verdict? Austin is indeed a little weird, but endearingly so. It’s a little like DC in that there’s not much to do during the day that doesn’t involve eating or drinking, but what it lacks in daytime activities it makes up for with the bar scene. I still would never want to live in Texas ever again, but this town is definitely a nice place to visit. I’m glad I came here, although next time I need to either skip the conference or develop more patience for dealing with the young and naïve.