USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Texas tradition’
Festival
Holidays
Legends
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Fiesta San Antonio

TO is a junior at the University of Southern California, and spent most of her childhood in San Antonio, TX.

TO described a popular festival that took place in her hometown:

“Fiesta is just a giant celebration held right around now in San Antonio, and it’s supposed to celebrate the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto. The whole thing is really colorful: people wear colorful clothes and decorate everything with bright flowers, and they have these things called cascarones, which are hollow eggs filled with confetti that you’d crack on e=people’s heads. They also have this ‘Battle of Flowers’ parade, where they literally have a calvary, and they pick a bunch of local girls to be ‘princesses.’ The princesses wear these huge colorful gowns covered in flowers with really long trains, and they each ride on a float.”

I asked TO if having the parade in her hometown made it less special over the years:

“A bit, yeah. The whole thing was really fun but I didn’t really participate much. The public schools would always get school off on the day of the Battle of the Flowers, like it was a holiday, but I never did. I was always a little weirded out by the princesses, and I knew a couple girls who participated in that, but I was never really interested. You had to be a part of a very old San Antonio family to be in it, and honestly be pretty wealthy. It kind of had a debutante ball vibe, like you were presenting yourself to Texas society.”

My analysis:

Fiesta San Antonio sounds a lot like other festivals around the world, with parades, cavalry and a princess “court.” This had it’s own Texas coloring though, and as someone from southern California I’d never heard of most of these traditions, or things like the cascarones. It was interesting to learn about the vivid relationship the city has with the Texas Revolution, and it almost makes San Antonio seem like a different kid of American city – the old Mexican influence is still very prevalent there, unlike a more modern influence in Los Angeles. The local history clearly still impacts citizens today, but the novelty can wear off after awhile for people like TO.

Customs
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Rangerette Big-Sis/Little-Sis Reveal

“So big sis/little sis reveal was a really exciting time during rangerettes because that is when you got like a special buddy who was a junior or a senior um if you were like an incoming freshman or a brand new sophomore and basically your big sis is what we called it and that is just someone who you can text with questions, someone who is a mentor, they teach you about rangerettes, they just help you out, and the reveal is really exciting because the freshmen would line up facing the juniors and a couple seniors who made us a hat box because we wore cowgirl hats on the field when we performed and they would like I guess each senior one by one would step up and walk down the line of freshmen and slow down to trick you and stop at the girl who was their little sis and it was very fun.”

 

Informant: The informant is a nineteen-year-old college freshman from Dallas, Texas. While in high school, she was a member of the Jesuit Rangerettes Dance and Drill Team. She attended the all-girls Catholic high-school, Ursuline Academy of Dallas, the sister school of Jesuit Dallas (an all-boys Catholic school). She began dancing when she was three, performing ballet, jazz, and lyrical styles of dance, which eventually led her to the high-school drill team. She currently attends Oklahoma State University.

 

Analysis:

I believe that this tradition is significant because it reveals the emphasis of sisterhood on a drill team. The Rangerettes Dance and Drill Team is an extracurricular activity unique to Texas and a few other southern states. The team performs at the half-time of football games on Friday nights, as well as at basketball, soccer, and rugby games. They wear leotards with fringe skirts, fringe and sequin overlays, gauntlets, a belt, white cowgirl boots, and sequined cow-boy hats. The season does not end with football season; rather, the team continues to perform at Jesuit events and participates in two dance competitions in the spring. Because this team is a year-long commitment, there are many extenuating traditions that serve to unify and “bond” the members of the team, in order to foster a spirit of sisterhood.

Because sisterhood is so essential to a team that is committed to working very hard year-round, the Big-Sis/Little-Sis tradition is especially important. I think the relationship between a big sister and a little sister is one of learning, motivating, and solidarity. Knowing that you have a “big-sis” on the team could give a new member the confidence that they need to effectively participate on the team. They have someone they can go to for advice and help if they ever have any questions. Their big-sis should be an approachable member of the team, and this practice also is a strategic way to foster relationships between older (and therefore more stand-offish) members of the team, and younger members of the team.

I think the practice of lining up the freshmen to surprise them with their big-sis emphasizes the importance of this tradition, as well as the nervousness that surrounds the situation. As new members trying to find a place on the team, as well as make new friends, the big-sis that they are assigned to could make a very significant impact upon how they feel as a member of the team. The drill team seems to place great emphasis on team bonding, so this is an important time. This nervousness and apprehension about who their big-sis is almost being mocked by the big sisters as they walk up and down the line trying to “trick” the new members about who their big–sis is.

In addition, the gift of the hatbox is especially significant in this tradition. Because the drill team members wear sequined cowgirl hats, which some consider the most important part of the uniform, your hatbox is going to be an essential component during one’s time on the drill team. To have it decorated specifically for a new member is especially noteworthy because it requires the big-sis to attempt to discover the personality of her little-sis so that she might make a hatbox that suits her, and it gives the little-sis a keepsake and symbol of her time on Rangerettes. These boxes are usually only big enough to fit the hat, but they are carried everywhere with the team. They serve both as protection for the hat, as well as decoration as they hold the symbolism of what it is to be a member of the drill team.

Game
Holidays
Humor
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Rangerette White Elephant

“Ok so the Rangerette Christmas tradition of the White Elephant was when every single member came with a silly gift, and we put them all in the middle, and one by one, we grabbed a gift, opened it up, and if you didn’t like the gift that you got, then you could like switch with somebody. It was pretty fun. So there was this picture that has been going around for I’d say about six years, six plus years. And it’s a very hideous picture of this one girl that was on the team and it was framed and she was the captain of the team and so you are pretty unlucky if you get that picture and the next year you bring it back so that way it stays in the circle, the rotation.”

 

Informant: The informant is a nineteen-year-old college freshman from Dallas, Texas. While in high school, she was a member of the Jesuit Rangerettes Dance and Drill Team. She attended the all-girls Catholic high-school, Ursuline Academy of Dallas, the sister school of Jesuit Dallas (an all-boys Catholic school). She began dancing when she was three, performing ballet, jazz, and lyrical styles of dance, which eventually led her to the high-school drill team. She currently attends Oklahoma State University.

 

Analysis:

The Rangerettes Dance and Drill Team is an extracurricular activity unique to Texas and a few other southern states. The team performs at the half-time of football games on Friday nights, as well as at basketball, soccer, and rugby games. They wear leotards with fringe skirts, fringe and sequin overlays, gauntlets, a belt, white cowgirl boots, and sequined cow-boy hats. The season does not end with football season; rather, the team continues to perform at Jesuit events and participates in two dance competitions in the spring. Because this team is a year-long commitment, there are many extenuating traditions that serve to unify and “bond” the members of the team, in order to foster a spirit of sisterhood.

Because of its association with Catholic schools, the team celebrates the Catholic holidays. Therefore, they have embraced the White Elephant, a game that is practiced at many Christmas gatherings in the US, and embedded it with their own tradition. Sitting in a circle with everyone on the team is a significant bonding factor, as no one is left out of the festivities. The picture of the captain may be unique because there are several stories surrounding the girl in the picture about how disliked she was because of her harsh manner of running the team.

The picture itself makes the captain look like a mix-between a clown and the Joker, which I believe represents the distaste the team had for this specific captain. I think this is an exhibition of the dynamics of a team. There may be one girl who is in charge, and she may be very talented in her own right, thereby expecting more from the team. This expectation may be exemplified by her harsh policies, therefore breeding contempt amongst the team. When the team does not like their captain, they are likely to come up with something like this picture as a way of bringing her back down to their level.

In addition, the captain is always a senior, but the other seniors on the team may not like taking orders or instruction from a girl who is their age. If this picture was first brought about by the seniors, then it would once again exhibit the desire to belittle the captain in order that she might remember that she is no better than the rest of the seniors, despite her rank.

The tradition of passing this picture around as giving someone bad luck is what I believe to be symbolic of the fragile threads of kinship that hold a team together. What may unite the team could be their dislike of the captain, and by randomizing who is going to receive the picture, and therefore “bad luck,” there is a reinforcement of the equality amongst team members. It is also something for all of the team members to look forward to as they wonder who is going to receive the picture the next year.

Legends
Musical

“Thirteen Days to Immortality”

             The informant explained that most schoolchildren in San Antonio are familiar with a song written about the Texans’ final days at the Alamo Mission, where a group of Texan military leaders and their troops resisted the Mexican army’s assault for thirteen days before they were all killed. The song, “Thirteen Days to Immortality,” is incorporated into theatrical performances of the Alamo, namely the Phantom of the Alamo. It is a popular feature at annual school performances and at local summer camps. She acknowledged that the author is unknown and, while the song is sung to a medley of musical tunes from other folk songs, she couldn’t identify which ones.She did, however, note that while her parents were familiar with the song during their childhood, her grandparents had never encountered it, suggesting that it is a fairly recent folk song that has emerged over the last two generations.

 

Oh! What a beautiful sunrise,
Day Twelve is a wonderful day!
Texans all gather together
To find out who all wants to stay.
Travis and Crockett, Jim Bowie
Lead the men over the line.
One man decides it’s not worth it,
It’s not his time yet to die.

 

On Day Thirteen. . .everyone died.
All of the heroes who fought on both sides.
Take down the flag, honor the dead, isn’t it sad.
Everyone suffers the loss for those are bad.
Take down the flag, take down the flag.

           

            The song is clearly a children’s song, akin to one you might see taught in a history class to aid children in memorizing historical facts. It is sung to a cheery tune, and there is a heavy emphasis on the collective loss shared by both parties during wartime: “Everyone suffers the loss.” Moreover, the lyrics also recognize heroics in both the Texan and Mexican troops, introducing the values of equality and honor in fighting for one’s land. “Thirteen Days to Immortality” presents perhaps a more sympathetic angle than the legend of the Alamo itself, which antagonizes the Mexican troops as the aggressors and looks unfavorably upon those who flee from death in battle (the lone Texan who abandoned the Alamo was left cursed to haunt the Alamo). Instead, the lyrics mourn the lives of the fallen, calling the deaths “sad” and the deserter is receives no negative attention at all.

            Both “Thirteen Days to Immortality” and the historical legend of the Alamo illustrate examples of war-related folklore or, in this case, folk history.  The song, in particular, relies on a lexicon of war-related vocabulary, namely “hero,” “honor,” and “flag.” In this way, outside of the song’s lyrical content, the vocabulary is recognizable as being related to war texts and literature.

 

Legends
Narrative

“The Phantom of the Alamo”

 

            A native Texan, the informant told me that all schoolchildren in San Antonio, Texas are intimately familiar with the story and history behind the Alamo, and she briefly explained that the Alamo Mission was the site of the 1836 Battle of the Alamo between Texas and advancing Mexican troops. While the informant understands that the Alamo has now become a historical museum and San Antonio’s primary tourist attraction, the history of the Alamo represents something much deeper for her because she has grown up in the area. She explained that residents of San Antonio are fiercely proud of the Alamo monument and the story behind it (all the Texan defenders were killed whilst protecting it), which is perhaps why several legend-like narratives have been spun from it. She feels that, as a resident of San Antonio, she has a duty to be proud and loving of her city to validate the Texan’s selflessness and sacrifice in protecting the Mission. The informant has also performed theatrical renditions of the story at various summer camps in Texas. While the informant told the story, she wore a small pendant of the Alamo around her neck.

 

            When you’re in San Antonio, which is where the Alamo is, you’re raised on the Alamo. The first time we had Texas history was in fourth grade, so that’s when you, kind of, like, really start to learn about the Alamo, but the myths just, kind of, come along with it. When I worked at the summer camp, we even put on this play called The Phantom of the Alamo, which spurns off an Alamo ghost story that’s created in a Phantom of the Opera style, but it’s a story that everyone is familiar with.

            I don’t know if you knew this, but there actually only about four Texans that fought at the Alamo―everybody else was just from the Union who came to help. Sorry, this story just needs some historical background. The Battle of the Alamo lasted thirteen days. The main people in charge of the Alamo were William B. Travis, Jim Bowie, and Davy Crockett. None of them were from Texas, but they were helping out Sam Houston’s cause and they needed to hold the Alamo long enough for Sam Houston to gather an army. They didn’t know they would die―they hoped they would live―but they knew it was a very distinct possibility. So, there were thirteen days, this Battle of the Alamo. They’re outnumbered. . .4,000 Mexican troops and 150 people at the Alamo. So, on day twelve, they know no more help is coming. The help that was supposed to come got held up, like, no one’s coming. The Mexicans have almost closed in on them, so William Barret Travis draws a line in the sand―and this part is great because people never know where it comes from―so he draws a line in the sand, and he says, “Men. . .we probably won’t survive another twenty-four hours, so if you wanna to leave, I understand. But if you wanna stay, and if you wanna die for this cause, and you wanna go down fighting, step over this line.” And so Davy Crockett steps over the line. Jim Bowie, who’s sick on his deathbed from an injury, is on his stretcher and he tells his men to carry him over the line. One by one, 149 Texans cross the line. . . and there’s one man that doesn’t. This one man looks around and he decides it’s not his time to die. So William Barret Travis is, like, “Fine, you can leave the Alamo.” And so he leaves, and he’s the only one that leaves, but as he leaves he can hear the sounds of everyone he left dying because they’re all dying behind him.

            The story goes that this one man―and history says it’s not clear but as a Texan, I believe that this man actually did leave the Alamo―ran into an old woman on his way back. She was a witch and said that it was his job to protect the Alamo from falling into wrong hands ever again because he abandoned all his men. And he didn’t believe her! But as he was running away from this woman, who essentially cursed him, he fell into a river and he drowned. From that point on, it’s said that he walks around in the Alamo when you’re coming to visit or any time the Alamo is in danger since his curse is to protect it. So the play Phantom of the Alamo takes that story and turns it into a musical. Basically, in the feature the Alamo has been turned into a theme park and it’s up to this guy who died fleeing the Alamo to restore the Alamo to its former glory. So if you go to the Alamo it’s said that you can feel him lingering around and making sure you don’t disturb anything.

 

            Highly engaging and dramatic, the informant’s performance of the Alamo legend made it easy for me to imagine the story, as well as its corollary Phantom of the Alamo, performed on a stage. Oftentimes, she recounted parts of the narrative with her eyes closed, as if she were recalling a memory or, in this case, imagining the scene in her head. The informant’s comfort level with the performance led me to believe that she had not only heard and performed it countless times herself―the lack of hesitance or doubt in her voice during her retelling (the pauses were for dramatic effect) made this clear. Moreover her facial expressions were natural and followed the narrative’s plot; the gesticulated wildly with her hands as she described the sickly Jim Bowie who mustered the fortitude to cross the line while on his deathbed. Evidently,  for the informant, the Alamo represents far more than the museum and monument that it is today, and her pride and spirit emerged during the more climactic moments in the story.

            Furthermore, the legend is versatile, perhaps because the story―though embellished―is grounded in history, obscuring the lines of authorship. For example, the haunting end of the man who fled the Alamo only to be cursed lends itself to a nighttime ghost story setting. And although the informant acknowledged the factual events of the Alamo that she and her peers learned in history class, she wholeheartedly admitted that this more fanciful legend is the one they tell when those unfamiliar with the Alamo ask about it. The truth value of “the line in the sand” is irrelevant because, as the informant admitted herself, “as a Texan” she believes in even the more myth-like elements of the legend. Lastly, among Americans, Texans are labeled as proud (the stereotype is that they are obnoxiously so) and this legend clearly utilizes those elements, as the men fight to defend their fatherland knowing that death is imminent. Whether these elements were exaggerated because of the stereotype, or whether the stereotype emerged from legends like that of the Alamo, however, is unclear.

[geolocation]