Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Char Miller and San Antonio

I recently attended a lecture at Trinity University presented by former history professor Char Miller, speaking on the release of his new book titled On the Edge: Water, Immigration, and Politics in the Southwest. Months prior I took time to read Deep in the Heart of San Antonio: Land and Life in South Texas.

My family and I relocated from Philadelphia, PA to San Antonio, TX in the summer of '93. Coming into adulthood over the past few years, I've taken on a greater understanding the dynamics of the history, politics, economic, and social issues concerning the current state of this city. "Deep in the Heart" proved to be inspiring and so I made it a point to show up for the Miller lecture. After moving from south Texas to Claremont, CA, Miller finds himself making a case for the significance of regional environmental geology as the director of the Environmental Analysis program at Pomona College.

His speech was riveting and grounded at the same time, involving the audience by alluding to references that hit close to home. For example, St. Augustine grass is not native to San Antonio, given the recurring droughts. He even went so far as to conduct an experiment by not watering any plants or landscaping for a year to see what was natural to the region. True to nature, the St. Augustine didn't make it. So why, he asks, are we so adamant to replicate the luscious lawns of the midwest and east coast? It is important to consider the number of golf courses scattered about San Antonio.

He addressed other topics such as immigration, comparing the Statue of Liberty on the coast of New York to the purported "electric fence" of the Southwest. The Q&A session came about with everyone making cases for their questions and statements. I had been preparing a few questions for the lecture and was determined to raise my hand at just the right time and, sure enough, my question was the one to close out the presentation. I thanked him for giving us the opportunity to engage in this community dialogue and that I was able to deliver my thoughts. I informed him that I gained a great understanding of the history and politics after reading "Deep in the Heart". My question went something like this:

"Your book covered the first 300 years, beginning with Spanish settlers from isles of Las Canarias, leading right up to 2004. There has been significant change in the past 9 years, worthy of documenting through literature. Is there a possibility of you writing a 'Deep in the Heart' pt. 2 and if not you to write it, then who?"

He broke the ice by saying that we'd have to ask his publisher. Then, in all seriousness, he began to comment on the structure of formal education at a primary/formative and college/university level. He said we seem to be stuck in an 18th-century methodology of how information is dispersed. He urged that he did not want to be the only one to write the story of San Antonio; that it should be a community dialogue, noting that everyday people working together can bring about dynamic social change in an urban and suburban setting.

After the session, the audience convened in the hall for hors deuvres, pastries, wine, and conversation.

With the words of Char Miller still ringing in my ears, I've started this blog in hopes of writing the story of the development of our communities in the 21st century. Given the diverse ethnicities, cultures, and socio-economic backgrounds in the cities of the U.S., how can we unify our identities to forge an unprecedented sense of harmony?

P.S. After the Char Miller presentation, an elder man and his wife approached me to further inquire about my story. We then struck up a dialogue about the history of neighborhoods in San Antonio, from the inconsistent structure of sidewalks to the emptiness of most public parks. I made the statement, "After taking into account the structure of downtown and residential neighborhoods, it seems apparent that this city was designed without the needs of the people in mind." To which he replied, "Oh, well this city was designed with the needs of the people in mind...the needs of the people who own it."