The Rodeo rounds up Texas pride
If the cowboy boots in your closet have begun tapping of their own accord, it’s not by magic — the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has come round again. Carnival rides are being erected, horses saddled and spurs polished, all for the viewing pleasure of Houston’s most dedicated Westerners … and the few who come for funnel cake.
When I think about the Rodeo, it’s often an unaltered vision of mild bewilderment. The rough edges of cowboy boots that I swore at age five I’d never put on my feet. The train of children waiting for plush dogs and squirt guns and whatever else they can win by tossing a ring. The cacophony of erratic bulbs atop rides, swirling faces haply refusing the purpose of gravity, the roar of a concert audience from across the parking lot. A snow cone that tastes so sweet, a warning label should be scripted on the napkins. And at a glance, it’s all so very Texan, which is why this part of the year always makes me ask myself: Is there such a thing as being too Texan?
According to the Rodeo’s website, its purpose is “to encourage better agricultural production in Texas and support thousands of students with educational funding.”
I suppose for pre-teens with painted freckles, the Rodeo’s presence is much like a traveling circus. The tents go up, animals are showcased, performers straddle a tightrope — or in this case, twirl one — and then everyone packs up and rides their station wagons into the sunset.
The notion of the “cowboy” or “cowgirl” has become so romanticized around the world that it seems the Wild West mentality is alive and well for those who’ve never crossed our border. I’m sure everyone has been asked by a foreigner at some point or another whether horses were our choice of transportation. This misconception, unfortunately, is just as present in-state and often unnoticed.
For Houston’s youth, living in the largest city in Texas can be both enlightening and strangely isolating. For many, myself included, the Rodeo is a social call, an occasion to be seen and photographed for a potential Facebook album. Ashamedly, I have no recollection of ever having attended the Livestock Show and only desired to go to the concerts that were least “country.” Because of the caricatures time and Hollywood have fostered, somewhere along the way, I’ve soured towards the Western clichés. But behind Lonestar decals and the Wrangler phenomenon, there’s a valued culture that has withstood decades of odds many Texas teenagers are unfamiliar with, despite their attire.
“It’s fun the first couple of times, but then it gets old,” said biomedical engineering freshman Lianna Gregorian. “I feel like I liked it more as a kid because I’m not a fan of country music, and that’s the only reason people our age go now.”
With artists like Brad Paisley, Jake Owen and the Eli Young Band, a flock of country-music lovers is always expected to indulge in at least part of the Rodeo’s offerings.
As Gregorian inferred, this encouragement of “better agricultural production” has, over the years, been depreciated as one large festival celebration to accompany the pledge we all said in high school to boast our state pride. But for those of us who didn’t grow up in the cosmopolitan hub of trends, the Rodeo is a kind of local Olympics, something that is strived for and highly anticipated.
For the truest of “cowboys,” it’s a platform of competition to display honed talents. The prizes that accompany them are forms of recognition that are received nowhere else. For people with skills in roping, riding or herding, it’s a notable achievement to be among our state’s finest at the annual Livestock Show.
Slowly dropping my Rodeo prejudice, I’ve realized that it’s for these Texans that we should attend the show. We should go to support their efforts, to idealize their integrity and to share in each other’s mutual pride that we could never have accomplished by simply donning a gallon hat.
And even though I’m still not inclined to wear constrictive cowboy boots, I intend to look beyond their symbolism for what it is and see it for what it should be: what I like about Texas.
Opinion columnist Alex Meyer is a creative writing freshman and may be reached at [email protected]