Democratic Muslims and Football-playing Tongans

Texas has never been widely known as a hotbed of progressive thought. This, despite the fact that great thinkers like Barbara Jordan and Molly Ivins came from here. Ann Richards too. This, despite the fact that issues near and dear to the progressive-heart were finally nationally adjudicated in cases that originated here (Roe v. Wade….Lawrence v. Texas).

Anyway, the whole point of this “Things to Like About Texas” section is to give you a different perspective of all-things-Texas, and hopefully broaden your mind a little.

Like this item from the Texas Observer about the recent State Democratic Convention. As the Observer reminds us, it’s normal for Democrats to be inclusive in their caucuses. Democratic gatherings, even in this state, are usually quite a menagerie of interest groups:


“You’ve got your Gun Owners Caucus and your Progressive Populist Caucus, Texas Stonewall Caucus and Motorcycle Caucus, Native American Caucus and Tejano Democrats Caucus. That’s the Democratic Party in all its messy glory – diverse interests trying to fit under a Big Tent.”



But how about a Muslim caucus?

That’s right. Right here in Texas:


“One of the more interesting active Dem organizations here is the Texas Muslim Democratic Caucus, the first of its kind in the nation, according to one of the organizers. The caucus started about four years ago and represents Muslim Ds across the state. It has at least 70 delegates attending the convention – 60 from Dallas alone as well as folks from Beaumont, San Antonio, Houston, and even unlikely locales like Marshall and East Bernard.”



Muslims from Marshall…

I’m fascinated, but not surprised, to learn that the vast majority of these delegates are from DFW. That matches the increased Democratic activism in our area too, as I’m sure you all remember from the last election.

But a Muslim caucus?
Right here?
In Texas?

Gotta love it.

Those of you reading this from so-called progressive states….would you have thunk it?

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Item numero-two-o for today concerns our First Lady, Laura Bush.

She was in Afghanistan recently, and she found herself doing a “review of the troops.” These were not Afghani troops, but troops from New Zealand. And these troops have become known for something called “haka,” A visually striking, very ancient, ceremonial dance from Polynesian culture, it’s been brought forward into the current day by these very modern troops.

What many observers noted at the time was how non-responsive Laura Bush was in the face of this menancing-looking moment. In the face of these shirtless, spear-toting men, she hardly flinched. Here’s how CBS correspondent, Mark Knoller, accompanying Laura Bush at the time, describes the scene:


“If there was a moment at which Mrs. Bush appeared in danger of her life, it was her visit to the military base in Bamiyan that is home to a contingent of forces from New Zealand.

They performed a “Haka” warrior’s dance, in which they angrily chant, grunt, shake their fists, pound their chests, stick out there tongues and make threatening advances. One soldier approached Mrs. Bush wielding a spear.”



Have a look at the actual video footage here:

Later, a reporter commented on her relatively non-plussed reaction to this presentation, and her response was something like:

“Oh yeah….we’ve got that in Texas too.”

Actually, the exact quote was:


“I thought that was really great….I actually know about the haka because there’s one football team in Texas that won state last year that happens to have a lot of Tongans … in that area of Dallas-Fort Worth, and they do the haka.”



Turns out, this is absolutely true.

Not too far from here, on the outskirts of Fort Worth, some 4,000 native Tongans have all settled in Euless. Twenty years ago, Euless was a relatively provincial little town. Today, it’s bustling suburb with, of all things, a thriving Polynesian subculture.

A local high school football team, the Euless Trinity Trojans, won their division in high school football last year. And one of the things the Trinity Trojans have become known for is a rousing, pre-game version of the Haka.

No kidding. Have a look:

This is why Laura Bush was able to say: “If I didn’t already know about it and hadn’t already seen this football team on television do this, I might have been really surprised by it”.

Now, before I come back around to why this is something fun to like about Texas, stop for moment and soak in the globalistic, intercultural nature of this moment.

First off, recall that the islands of Tonga and New Zealand are some 1,300 nautical miles a part.

So, the first fascinating cultural learning is that the “haka” made it across the vast oceans separating various Polynesian islands. (Apparently spread through sports teams)

Knowing that, just soak up this cultural stew:

Troops from New Zealand end up in Afghanistan?

A First Lady from Texas ends up knowing their cultural tradition?

Because 4,000 Tongans end up in Texas?

And a high school football team ends up celebrating an ancient Polynesian dance?

God love us all.

Ain’t it fun?

And regardless of what you think about Laura Bush or Texas High School football, you have to admit that it’s fun to see Tongan culture, celebrated in a Fort Worth, Texas suburb.

And regardless of what you think of Democrats, you have to admit it’s kind of fun to see a Muslim Caucus of the Texas Democratic Party be one of the first of its kind.

And if you can smile at both these things?

Then you’ve got two more things to like about Texas.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

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