Monday, July 15, 2024

Silhouetted against the predawn light of the West Texas sky, a group of oil field workers got ready for the tough job ahead on a September day — cleaning up a spill on a rig outside of Odessa — speaking a mix of English and Spanish.

All 80 employees of their company, Premier Energy Services, are Hispanic, reflecting a shift that has slowly transformed Texas’ oil-rich western expanse. Where a roughneck — the grease-stained symbol of Texas’ economic identity — was once typically a white man hoping to strike black gold, the average oil field worker is now a Hispanic man who was born in Texas.

“Growing up, my dad used to take me to work in the oil fields. It was a white man’s industry,” said a foreman, Alfredo Ramirez, 31, a third-generation Mexican American. “Today it is us Latinos.”

Mark Matta, a city councilman in Odessa, chuckled as he described a television series about a Texas oil rig in which most of the workers were white. “That show flipped our reality,” he said.

Understanding the reality of Texas matters. With a population of over 30 million, Texas is increasingly shaping the cultural and political direction of the country. Its economy is one of the largest in the world, growing faster than the nation’s as a whole.

The fastest growing demographic group is made up of the children of immigrants, predominantly Texas-born Hispanics. That means that white people, who had long been the state’s largest demographic group, are now outnumbered by those who are Hispanic, even among native-born Texans, a change first documented by the U.S. Census Bureau this year.

Texas also leads the nation in the growth of its Black population, surpassing Georgia and Florida. And unlike Black transplants to other states, who are often either poor or rich, those coming to Texas are more likely to be middle class, census data shows.

The trends have already affected the state’s politics, and are likely to continue to do so. In Odessa, where the Latino share of the local population has nearly doubled to 56 percent since 1990, the mayor is still a conservative Republican, but for the first time, he is Hispanic.

Rebublicans, recognizing the changes, have courted conservative Hispanics and have seen some recent electoral successes, particularly in the Rio Grande Valley.

For many Americans outside the state, Texas’ identity is quickly conjured: Cowboys and football. Guns and oil. Pickup trucks and Waylon Jennings.

The identity of being a Texan has changed completely,” said Ray Benson, a long-ago transplant from Pennsylvania whose western swing band, Asleep at the Wheel, played at the dance hall’s reopening. “I came in to Texas to become a Texan. But now I think more people moving to Texas just bring whatever their culture was before.”

In reporting trips over miles and miles of Texas, to borrow a phrase from a classic song, The Times found a broad range of Texans, settling in a few representative places — a North Texas suburb, the roughneck hub of Odessa and the heart of Houston — to tell the story of a state in rapid transition.

Frisco: A Landing Pad for TransplantsHeather Eastburn and her husband were living in Los Angeles but after having children, they needed more space and decided to relocate to Frisco, Texas, near where her husband, a Republican wealth manager, was from.

Ms. Eastburn had doubts.

“People would tell me, ‘oh, you’re going to have a good life there. It’s an easy life,’” she recalled. “And I was like, what does that mean?”

After the move, she discovered what they meant. The schools were good. Everything was new, down to the shopping carts at the grocery store. “It was like I was pushing a Cadillac around in the Kroger instead of fighting with something like you would in L.A.,” she said.

Frisco, a suburban boomtown that barely existed 30 years ago, has become a landing pad for transplants from around the country, drawn by relatively cheap housing and jobs in and around Dallas and Fort Worth.

The city now marks the Hindu festivals of Holi and Diwali, along with Lunar New Year, Christmas, Hanukkah and Ramadan, said the mayor, Jeff Cheney, a real estate developer and moderate Republican.

Several Frisco residents were among those who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, but in recent school board elections, voters rejected candidates backed by a Christian conservative cellphone company, Patriot Mobile, that has been trying to shift…

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