In May, 2015, massive flooding devastated the Austin,Texas area. San Francisco Hillel has sent 7 students to contribute to the long-term recovery effort; here are their reflections.
There’s a certain warmth that’s found within these Texas suburbs that is unlike anything I have ever experienced. Charm rolls off these “y’alls,” “ma’ams” and “sirs” that adds complexity to my assumptions about this place and these people. When I (a fashion-forward college student from one of the most urban, liberal areas of the country) first came to Texas (known for its cowboys, conservative politics, and college football) I was fearful there would be big cultural gap between me and the locals. I worried I would not be accepted into the community, even as a volunteer.
On Wednesday night, I found myself in a “hole in the wall” saloon in the town of San Marcos. The place itself was almost intimidating, with its dim blue and red lights illuminating a dirty wooden floor, scattered with tables with obvious chipped paint. The lit side of the room revealed an empty stage with a single microphone. I sat down, hesitant, with all the Texas stereotypes running through my head.
Then they came shuffling in. About a dozen men with guitars in hand slowly made their way to the stage, stopping just in front. They each found a chair they liked (which were arranged in a half circle, facing the audience) and plopped down. The room, besides these guitar-wielding men and our group of student volunteers, was practically empty.
Our small talk quieted when all the men were seated. They all looked back at us, some young, some old, some local, and some new. One older man started the conversation off with thanking us for being there, and then began to share his story. He told us the previous owner of the building had sadly passed away about a year ago. The other musicians mentioned him as well, joking about old times together and thanking him for allowing them to come together and play their music.
Though the place had felt foreign at the start, with each new performer the tension lessened. We all laughed and cried together throughout the night, and at the end I felt as if I we were all old friends, reuniting to make some music in a little dive bar in the heart of Texas.
Throughout this trip, I’ve been amazed and humbled by the warmth found in the people of this community. They lived through disaster and loss, and face an uncertain future. But still they accepted us Californians with open arms – embracing us, west coast attitudes, accents, accessories and all. I’ve learned many lessons while helping this town rebuild, and one of the most important that I will never forget, is to always rush out to welcome the stranger.