Sure to stir the heart of any true-blue, red-blooded person born in the state of the yellow rose are the words “Texas native.” At least that’s what Amarillo legislator Chip Staniswalis thought when he proposed that those fortunate enough to have been born in Texas be entitled to display the words “Texas native” on their license plates to distinguish themselves from the migrant masses. A “small” fee for the plates ($50 each) would be required, of course, along with proof of Texas birth.
The license plates could have provided undeniable proof of one’s native credentials, but the House of Representatives didn’t go for the plan. The idea, however, provoked some interesting questions for Dallas residents: If the bill had passed, would we have seen a great number of those embossed license plates on Central Expressway, parked at Texas Stadium or edging bumper-to-bumper toward the Galleria? Or has our growing economy and Sunbelt image drawn in so many out-of-staters that true native Texans (and Dallasites) are now relatively few and far between?
Native Texans are far from extinct, but it’s true that they’re on the decline in Dallas. The decline, though, is to a lesser degree and at a lower rate than one might expect. Back in 1970, for instance, 68 percent of the people in and around Dallas were native to Texas; in 1960, 73 percent could boast that Texas was their birthplace. According to the 1980 census, of all the people living in Dallas County, 64.29 percent claim the Lone Star state as their place of birth. Tarrant County currently boasts 1.04 percent more natives than does Dallas County. (We must be honest with the numbers here: Census takers love to change their sample areas for each census, so the numbers can’t always be compared accurately between census reports. But suffice it to say that the majority of Dal-lasites are native Texans, and the majority shows no signs of dramatically losing ground despite the increasing number of newcomers who stare in bewilderment when an Aggie joke is told, or who refer to a soft drink as “pop” or who call to chat during the fourth quarter of a Cowboys game.)
Looking at the flip side of the statistics, one might assume that about 35 percent of these people have made a conscious decision to live in Dallas. Casting aside provincialism, we’ll have to give these folks credit for having the wisdom, foresight and just plain good sense to move to these parts.
This year, an estimated 23,800 people will be new to the Dallas area, according to M/PF Research, a real estate consulting and analysis firm. Who are these newcomers who have chosen to put down roots in Dallas soil? In recent years, there’s been a lot of talk about masses of people leaving the industrialized Northeast and heading for the Sunbelt. This trend, however, is not new; the movement has been going on for decades. Says Paul J. Kelley of U-Haul International: “Since the mid-Fifties, we’ve constantly been running short of equipment up there [the Northeast], and the equipment ends up in areas such as Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Albuquerque and Orange County, California. But for the last 15 to 18 years, we’ve been able to plan [our equipment movement] for these areas.”
Although there has been a great deal of talk about the Northeastern-to-South-western migration, there’s a silent majority of people who are assimilating into Dallas life almost unnoticed. Of those people who lived in Dallas County during the last census but who weren’t county residents in 1975, 62 percent had come from either another part of Texas or from somewhere else in the Southwest.
Only 8 percent of those people who packed their bags for Dallas were from the Northeast; 15 percent were from the North Central section of the country (including Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio, Missouri and Michigan). Our neighbors to the West contributed 11 percent of the newcomers to Dallas County between 1975 and 1980. It’s also interesting to note that people who moved to Dallas from other countries are almost as numerous- 34,638-as those who moved here from the West.
“About 60 percent of those moving to Dallas County [have been living] within 500 miles of Dallas,” says Dr. Paul Geisel of the Institute of Urban Studies at the University of Texas at Arlington. Much of the migration into Dallas, he believes, is done by people from outlying rural areas who come to the city to start their careers. And, he says, the census numbers aren’t broken down to account for the massive influx of college students. According to Geisel’s sampling of 30,000 people, 80 percent of all newcomers to Dallas are between 20 and 30 years old.
But there are dramatic swings in migration from year to year that create the impression of a mass influx. Back in 1979, Dallas had a spurt of newcomer growth with a net in-migration of 43,900, according to M/PF Research. But during 1974 and 1975, Dallas had an increase of only 12,000, and before that, in 1971, the area lost ground by almost 10,000 people.
But the current growth isn’t as dramatic as these isolated years might indicate. As a nation, we’re far less mobile now than we were a few decades ago. During the Fifties, one in every five Americans moved each year; today, those figures are closer to one in every six to eight people, says U-Haul’s Kelley.
Keeping an accurate record of migration is difficult, at best. One way to gauge who’s moving to Dallas is to watch the treks made by major van lines. Corporate moves account for the majority of hauls. Through the Household Goods Carriers’ Bureau, six major van lines keep records of the destinations of goods that are hauled between the top metropolitan areas. The places from which goods (and presumably people) mosi frequently flowed to Dallas are New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Detroit and Atlanta, according to the bureau’s Joe Habib. During the last few years, these same cities have ranked as our key sources of newcomers.
Geisel sums up the primary reason why people frequently move to Dallas from these cities: “We’re the branch-plant culture of America,” he says. “We have three things going for us: location, location and location. Dallas is a good place to be to reach both coasts in about an equal amount of time. Being in the central time zone is also crucial.”
It won’t be long before this year’s 23,800 newcomers mesh into Dallas life. The spirit of Dallas is irresistibly contagious. After all, it was just a couple of years ago that 1, too, was a statistic in the newcomers’ column. At one time, 1 referred to a carbonated drink as “pop,” instead of a “Coke.” It’s hard to believe now, but once I even asked if an Aggie was the same thing as an Okie. (I had heard of Okies on old TV Westerns.) But now I don’t make those mistakes. Today, I shudder when the temperature drops below 40 degrees, and I talk about how great the weather is when the mercury has reached 80 degrees by nine o’clock in the morning. I’m a Dallas, Texan, by choice-and I wouldn’t have it any other way.