As a photographer, pilot, author, and businessman, Jay B. Sauceda has reflected on the identity of Texas from many angles. In 2013, the La Porte native and his wife, Priscilla Sauceda, launched Texas Humor, a company that makes T-shirts and hats that he calls “clothes for the Texan mood.” In 2016, Sauceda offered more information about Lone Star in Y’all: The Ultimate Guide to Being a Texana field manual for aspiring Texans that sells out big every holiday season.
Sauceda has also taken his fascination with the Lone Star to the sky, piloting his single-engine Cessna around the entire 3,822-mile perimeter of the state and taking pictures along the way. The resulting images of the six-day trip, published in a 2016 book titled A Mile Over Texas—captures the vermilion ribbon of the Red River, the meandering Sabine cutting through a border with Louisiana, the rugged flow of the Rio Grande, and the invisible state lines of the Panhandle.
Since its founding, Texas Humor has expanded from a clothing line based in Sauceda’s garage in Austin to a shipping and fulfillment company with more than 120 employees. Sauceda sold the fulfillment business last year but retained the Texas Humor line and its social media fan base of nearly 2 million. While he and Priscilla raise their two young children, Sauceda works in corporate communications and plans to expand Texas Humor’s offerings to include camping gear and outdoor activities. “The pride of Texas is an oil well that will never run dry,” he says.
TH: You’re a fifth generation Texan. Does that change anything about the way you feel about living here?
JBS: The idea that Texas is a mindset and an approach to life, in my opinion, has always been much more important than previous generations. Sure, it’s fun to have that connective tissue to something that’s historically very important to me. But I think the most important thing is, while I’m here, what is my brand? I cannot claim the achievements of the people who came before me. I love the association with them, but I hope the things I do while I’m here are impactful enough that people who come after me think, “I’m related to someone who was here and left a mark on the state.” .”
TH: Your first t-shirt design for Texas Humor was a map of the US with the words “Ain’t Texas” on the rest of the country. Can you tell me more about that design?
JBS: Texas Humor, and that design in particular, was never intended to be political at all. It’s more about the fact that when you travel with a Texan out of state, they spend a lot of time complaining or comparing things to Texas, like “Well, when we’re on HEB at home…” or whatever. So that’s where the idea came from. And it turned out that it was a unifying flag for people to emphasize the things they love about the state.
TH: How does it feel to stay in the sky over state lines instead of streaking across them?
JBS: About 200 years ago, with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, a group of people came together and decided that the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo would be the border between Texas and Mexico. And from now on, there’s this visual identity that we have for Texas. So the shape of Rio Grande/Rio Bravo is now something that people have tattooed on their bodies. You can go anywhere in the world, and the people you meet can probably draw the shape of Texas more easily than the United States. I’m surprised it’s so distinctive in that way. However, I remember when I flew from Dalhart and decided to fly to the most northwestern point of the state, well, there’s nothing there. That super sharp, very sharp edge is irrelevant where it exists.
TH: How did you take photos while flying a plane by yourself?
JBS: Simply put, in an ideal world, you set up the plane so that it can only fly once it’s in the air. Balance is the name of the game, right? So, there were a couple of cameras on the wings and then I had two cameras on my lap. And if I saw something really cool, I would put it on autopilot and shoot out the window quickly and then retrieve the yoke. The high-wing Cessna I flew is designed to be like a Cadillac in the sky. It was pretty stable.
TH: It’s remarkable that three of Texas’ borders are defined by rivers. Do you think that plays a role in the identity of Texans?
JBS: I mean, the cocky Texan in me would say it’s because we have a more exuberant history than everyone else, and maybe the exuberance comes from the fact that we have so many damn rivers and so much of the Texas way of life is defined by the rivers. From the air, I’d say the edge of the Rio Grande is clearer than the Sabine, mainly because the Sabine is hidden by tall pines. The canopy of pines is so dense that the water features are not as obvious as they are for the Red or Canadian Rivers in the Panhandle. You see the whole river in the Red River: it is a vein in shape and color.
TH: How did this project change your feelings about the border?
JBS: It started as an idea that was purely visual in nature. And it ended in a kind of appreciation for geology, history, and people. I met so many people. I had a long talk with the woman who ran the Marshall airport. I knew a guy who used to fly this 40 year old plane very low over the pipelines of East Texas, checking for leaks every day. And I bumped into him because I was having coffee at the airport before taking off. I met attorney Dick DeGuerin one Sunday morning in Marfa and helped him gas his plane because I didn’t want him to dirty his pants. My intention was to do an art project, and it ended up being a bunch of cartoons about Texas history and teaching people about aviation and so much more than I ever thought it would.
TH: What might Texans learn from circumnavigating our state in the air?
JBS: My hope is that it creates some self-awareness that if you live here, there’s a very good reason why you do. And that reason is probably not too far from the reasons of all the other people here. And there is much more in common between people at opposite ends of the political spectrum than the things that divide us. And from that grand standpoint, the things that really divide us are dumb enough to argue about whether you like your barbecue sauce sweet or spicy, right? For me, every time I’m lucky enough to go out and work on a project, I think, “Man, I have a lot in common with this person.” So between being on the ground and being 10,000 feet in the air, I’ve yet to find a reason why two Texans should hate each other. There are many reasons to disagree with people, but there are very few reasons to hate.
TH: What is one of the most important nuggets of wisdom you shared with aspiring Texans on Y’all: The Definitive Guide to Being a Texan?
JBS: If there’s one thing I want aspiring Texans to take away with it, it would be that Texas is many things to many different people, and the best way to fit in if you’re new here is to remember that you have two ears and one mouth. So listen more than you talk because there are a lot of really great stories out there. So let them talk; ask them questions. You may find that you have more in common than you thought.
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From the June 2022 issue