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Why I Stay in Texas, Even Though It’s Breaking My Heart

9 minute read
Gutierrez is the author of the novel More Than You'll Ever Know

My home office in San Antonio is honeyed with summer light. Outside, a fledgling roadrunner races through the hot dirt and buffelgrass of the empty lot next door. The sun is already high, another scorcher, as my parents always called these days in Laredo, where I grew up, and where they did, too, and their parents before them, three generations of South Texans before our roots stretch across the Rio Grande into Mexico, where some long-ago relatives must have looked at their children and decided the U.S. would be a better home for them, safer and freer.

The U.S. is my home. Texas is my home. Both are breaking my heart.

On May 19, 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed SB8, a draconian law banning abortion after six weeks (before most people even know they’re pregnant) and turning private citizens into bounty hunters by authorizing them to sue abortion facilitators or providers. On September 17, 2021, Abbott signed SB4, a law that outlawed medication abortion after seven weeks and made it illegal to mail abortion pills to anyone in the state.

Now, within 30 days of the June 24 Supreme Court decision to strike down Roe v. Wade, 13 trigger-law states, including Texas, will implement total or near-total bans on abortion. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton didn’t waste any time, quickly issuing an advisory saying that abortion providers could be criminally liable for violating pre-Roe statutes. “I will work tirelessly to ensure our laws are fully enforced and Life is protected in Texas,” he tweeted. He then closed his office, declaring June 24 an annual holiday.

Exactly a month before the Supreme Court stripped millions of bodily autonomy and devalued our lives, an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 elementary school students and two teachers in Uvalde, a small town an hour and a half from my home. Three friends of a friend lost their 9-year-old daughters that day.

“Lost”—a thing you say about keys, your page in a book, your way. Not your children, torn apart by a weapon of war. Not your basic rights, your full humanity.

Read More: ‘There Is an Emptiness.’ Uvalde Shooting Victim Lexi Rubio’s Great-Grandfather Remembers Her 10 Years of Life

Days after the Uvalde massacre—let the horror of that word settle: a massacre, of children—the NRA held a convention in Houston as planned. There, Senator Ted Cruz said attempting to restrict gun access wouldn’t work, unlike, apparently, restricting abortion access. The hypocrisy of Texas lawmakers is enough to disintegrate any trust in public institutions, any belief that democracy isn’t for sale.

I can already hear the comeback, flung out smugly by progressives in blue states: “Just move!” They said it in February 2021, when the electrical grid in Texas failed and people froze in their homes. They said it a year later, when Abbott issued a letter to Texas state health agencies stating that delivering gender-affirming care to trans youth constitutes child abuse and that parents seeking such care for their kids should be reported to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. They said it when abortions were banned after six weeks, they said it after children were murdered in Uvalde, and they are saying it again now that abortions have almost entirely stopped in this state of more than 28 million people, where, in 2020, nearly one in five pregnancies ended in abortion.

When you tell people to leave their homes to escape dangerous, discriminatory laws, you’re ignoring that only those with enormous privilege can easily move, and that those left behind are the most vulnerable to harm caused by those same laws. You’re assuming there are no ties that bind tightly enough to keep a progressive person, with and without privilege, in a red state—and you’re wrong.

In August 2020, the author May Cobb moved from Austin to California with her husband and their 8-year-old son, who is severely impacted by autism. He’d been receiving full-time applied behavior analysis therapy in Texas, but California’s nonpublic school system for kids with autism seemed promising. Unfortunately, they arrived just as community spread of COVID-19 made in-person school impossible. Over the next two months, their son spiraled.

Read More: The Fight Over Abortion Has Only Just Begun

Finally, the school reopened, and though it helped, they soon realized that he needed more support than a classroom environment, even one tailored to autism, could offer. There were only a handful private ABA providers in their area, compared to dozens in Austin, and their insurance company denied coverage because their son didn’t have a recent diagnosis. Desperate, Cobb and her husband brought their son back to Texas after five months so he could resume therapy at his previous center. He now receives 40 hours of one-on-one services each week.

“Coming back was monumentally life-changing,” Cobb says. “It recovered him from the depths of hell.”

In addition to regaining the therapeutic support their son needed, they were able to rent a house in Austin for $1,000 less each month than their 900-square-foot apartment in California, as well as be near family again and access the hiking trails and rivers their son loves. “Even if Trump gets reelected,” she says, “it would be very hard for us to leave unless our son is much further along, because his therapy center here is really so much better.”

Read More: The Devastating Implications of Overturning Roe Will Go Far Beyond Abortion Patients

Megan Pillow, writer and project manager for Roxane Gay, moved to Kentucky in middle school, left for college and her MFA, returned briefly and then left again for more than a decade before moving back with her then-husband and children to get her PhD at the University of Kentucky.

“I couldn’t do a PhD without childcare help, and my mom and stepdad, who also live here, offered to provide that while I was in school,” Pillow says.

Like Texas, Kentucky is a trigger-law state, and after Roe was overturned, HB 148 went into effect, banning all abortions—including those for rape or incest—except in rare cases when they’d save the mother’s life. “I believe that restricting abortion deprives especially Black and brown Kentucky residents of essential rights and makes their reproductive autonomy more likely to be criminalized in a state where their rights overall have historically been minimized, ignored, or outright abandoned,” says Pillow, who also fiercely opposes several other recently passed laws.

Still, she isn’t going anywhere for the time being. Pillow and her ex-husband, who also lives in Kentucky, share custody of their children. “I cannot and will not ever leave my children,” she says. “I also think the people living in blue states and especially in white utopias of all political persuasions are living under an illusion that they are safe. They aren’t. The ramifications of the destruction that this rogue Supreme Court and everyone who supports them are inflicting are monumental, and they’re going to have a ripple effect across this entire country. No one is safe.”

Diana Cejas, a pediatric neurologist, was raised in a rural area of North Carolina. She went to medical and graduate school in the D.C. area, then moved to New Orleans for pediatric residency training, and finally to Chicago to complete her training in pediatric neurology. She always knew, though, that she wanted to care for kids in the community that raised her. That didn’t change even when North Carolina passed the so-called “bathroom bill” in 2016, preventing transgender people from using the public bathrooms aligned with their gender identity.

Read More: Residents Already Need to Travel for Abortion Training. Experts Fear Roe’s End Will Make It Even Harder

“It’s one example of many egregious, discriminatory bills that North Carolina politicians have passed in recent years,” Cejas says. But, in a now-viral tweet after Roe was overturned, she pointed out that, “Writing off the South means writing off some of the most diverse communities and fierce advocates in the nation and leaving those who will be most harmed [by] these policies behind.”

Cejas spends most of her time advocating for improved access to care and care delivery and expanding the social safety net. She works primarily within health care systems but has also spoken directly with state and federal representatives and educates medical students and trainees about activism within medicine.

“I won’t be moving out of state, because my family is here,” she says. “The farm that I grew up on is here and I want to protect it, and I know that’s a privilege that a lot of Black farming families don’t have. I want to help disabled kids and other kids like the ones that I grew up with here. And despite everything I love this place. This is my home.”

Despite everything, I love this place, too. I love the way my toddler laughs when he sees his grandparents, all five teeth on display, his eyes crinkling like mine, like my dad’s, like my grandpa’s. I love the way my 4-year-old and her cousins find “secret hiding spots” whenever they’re together. I love spending time on our family’s ranch just north of Laredo, the kids’ cheeks flushed with heat as they drop food in the dam for the catfish that roil the murky water. I love hearing Spanish as much as English when we visit Laredo, and how deeply embedded our Mexican heritage is in South Texas. I love backroads motorcycle rides with my husband, Hill Country wineries, tamales on Christmas morning. Within the easy, dismissive label of every “red state,” there are things—and people—worth fighting for.

So stop telling us to leave our homes in order to access the rights enjoyed by people in blue states. Stop assuming that, in the heavily gerrymandered South, the worst of us represent the rest of us. The day may come when the cost of staying becomes too high to pay, when the threats looming over our families, our beloved children, become too terrifying to accept. Then those of us with the resources to leave will, with great care and sorrow, unearth our roots and hope for fertile soil elsewhere. Until then, stop telling us to move.

Start asking how you can help.

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