SAN ANTONIAN OF THE YEAR
Big history...not the pop culture you find labeled as 'historic' on The History Channel; but big, capital letter HISTORY, the kind that fills thick volumes written by full professors with patches on their coat sleeves and the kind which will be pondered in faculty lounges of universities which have yet to be founded, sometimes occurs where you least expect it, and at times when nobody sees it coming. It involves places which are largely forgotten by small history, places where Lady Gaga doesn't do concerts, and where the paparazzi never gather to photograph celebrities. And when it does come, it arrives unmistakably, louder than life and demanding to be acknowledged, because it alters decades of conventional wisdom, and affects millions of people in ways that would have been unimaginable just a few years, or a few months, before it arrives, fully grown and with fire in its eyes. San Antonio has rarely been touched by big history before, but it is being touched now, and will continue to be touched for years to come. It is for that reason that the Eagle Ford oilfields, and the men and women who are turning this unlikely enterprise into a force to change the world, is the 2013 San Antonian of the Year. And it is because, 86 years hence, when our grandchildren gather in 2099 to mark the biggest events in Texas of the 21st Century, the Eagle Ford will be included on that list, too.
The impact of the Eagle Ford oil shale boom is enormous in terms of its reshaping of world events, and its effect on the daily lives of the tens of thousands of people from the Brush Country to the economy of San Antonio is no less significant. It has brought unimagined wealth to rural ranching communities in places like LaSalle and Karnes Counties, forced wrenching changes in a lifestyle which in many ways predates Texas, and suddenly pushed people who for generations had lived by rhythms no more foreign than the price of cattle and this year's cotton crop to confront issues of rapid change and unforeseen growth. It has brought the world's economy to south Texas, and in that amazing odyssey has changed everything we thought we knew about energy, world relations, and the future of the United States.
It was just a few years ago that the smart people were talking about 'peak oil,' the idea that the world's oil supplies were inevitably falling and ahead lay chaos, ruin, and the end of the industrialized economy. Were it not for Texas entrepreneur George Mitchell, that might have been so, but he was committed to exploring the possibility of using high pressure water, sand, and other chemicals in conjunction with horizontal drilling to unlock unimagined quantities of oil and natural gas he knew was locked inside ancient shale formations deep under Texas. Of Mitchell, who died in 2013, The Economist wrote, "few business people have done as much to change the world as George Mitchell."
In the San Antonio area, that change has taken many forms. The city's south side, long a stepchild, has used its proximity to the shale fields to transform itself, and in conjunction with new developments like Texas A&M and Brooks City Base, is growing in power, wealth, and status. The economy of the eight county region is among the healthiest in the country, with an unemployment rate below 6%, a booming construction sector, a robust and growing high tech component and, in the overused words of urban planner Richard Florida, a creative class which is, in its own way, transforming the city's landscape. It is a smarter, wealthier, and far more confident San Antonio, fundamentally transformed from the tourism and military center of the early 1990s, which sits astride 2014, preparing to take its place as one of the great urban centers of America.
The long term impact of the Eagle Ford boom is still uncertain. Some, including, with no shortage of hopeful fantasy, Arab oil sheiks call it a blip, and predict America will be begging again for Middle Eastern oil by the end of this decade. But the common belief is far different, that as America begins to take its place as the planet's largest oil and gas producer, that this is a development that will reorder our world, and maintain the United States as a powerful force for good for the foreseeable future. Ending our four decades of wars to protect oil sources and oil lanes. Using the natural gas boom to rebuild America's critical manufacturing sector, another development which has its roots in San Antonio and Texas.
A popular bumper sticker in Texas in the 1980s, usually seen on the back of a rather beaten up seventies-vintage luxury car, read 'Dear God, please give me another oil boom. This time, I promise not to blow it.' Well, we have another oil boom and we are using it to change the world, to fight back against extremism and to spread that essential quality that continues to make the United States a beacon for the world's desperate and hopeful populations: prosperity. Big history will look back on our time and place as special, where prospects for all people became brighter, and filled with more possibility. And yes, we are definitely not blowing it.
TWO WHO MADE A DIFFERENCE:
1) DIEGO BERNAL, DISTRICT ONE CITY COUNCIL MEMBER
They say there are two things you should never watch being created--sausage and laws. San Antonio's groundbreaking Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered Non Discrimination Ordnance was not pretty being created, but Councilman Bernal showed courage and initiative in pushing for it, and in winning approval by the full council, of one of the most contentious issues of the entire year.
Trying to push the proposal through under the radar as City Council prepared for its summer recess opened unpleasant divisions in our city, between conservative and progressive, even between people of different skin colors, as gay rights unfortunately remains an elitist issue which is frequently not fully embraced by working people or by immigrants, like former Councilwoman Elisa Chan. A smarter move would have been to vet the proposal thoroughly at churches, and especially in the city's African American community, where it received scant support and was even branded as 'racist.' In the early 1960s, heroic efforts in support of integration by leaders like Rev. Buckner Fanning spared San Antonio the worst of the civil rights struggle of those years, because all sides entered the battle in agreement, and all felt they had a stake in its successful outcome. Such was not the case in the NDO debate, because excluding important constituencies from having a hand in crafting the proposal made many think it was being 'imposed on' them. A Henry Cisneros, or a Phil Hardberger, would have first sat down with Pastors Flowers and Hagee, with community leaders, with the Archbishop, with key conservatives like Chan, and emerged to have everybody stand shoulder to shoulder in support of the issue. Instead, its presentation was unnecessarily divisive and clumsy.
That said, it is a statement that this city badly needed to make. Exclusionism is frequently the dark and ugly side of religion, and becoming fully invested in legal protection for all is vitally important in our increasingly multi cultural time. San Antonio is a better place today due to Councilman Bernal's courage and commitment.
2) SEBASTIEN DE LA CRUZ, 'EL CHARRO DE ORO'
There are several types of 'talent' a person can possess, and these days it takes all the talent you can muster to make a difference. When Americans can possess this talent at the age of eleven, there is reason to hope for a brighter future for all of us.
When Sebastien De La Cruz, an exceptional Mariachi performer who has already made it to 'America's Got Talent' performed the National Anthem, as a last minute fill in, during the NBA Finals, the bizarre response was a mirror of the negative stereotypes of immigrants which have existed since the founding of this country, plus all of the new emotions which have been stirred up by our decade-long debate over immigration. Sebastien, who, by the way, was born in Texas, helped advance that debate with his classy and thoughtful response to social media comments like 'you really had a Mexican sing the National Anthem?' and 'What was that, the Mexican Hat Dance?' "To be honest, that's just the way they were raised," Sebastien said with wisdom which should be transmitted to some members of Congress.
Sebastien returned to thunderous applause to perform the National Anthem of his native country once more during the NBA Finals and has participated in other San Antonio activities, including the Holiday River Parade. While more success as a musician certainly lies ahead for Sebastien, what also lies ahead is a key role as a calming figure in our increasingly quarrelsome national debate. For El Charro De Oro also brings us Sabiduria Del Oro, and we all could use more of that.