As a liberal inspired by Sen. Bernie Sanders and the son of a Mexican immigrant, Steven Garza was an odd man out at Texas Boys State 2018.
Boys State, a summer program held annually across the country for high school juniors, aims to teach its participants about the American political and electoral process. Dozens of former participants have gone on to be powerful elected officials, including former president Bill Clinton.
During the week-long program, students develop competing political party platforms and run for various offices, with Boys State Governor being the highest position. In a sea of conservatives, Garza decided to run for that office.
“Me being a short, stumpy Mexican kid, both in the racial and the political minority, I was like, ‘This is going to be rough,’ but I was determined nonetheless,” government sophomore Garza said.
Garza isone of the protagonists of a documentary titled ‘Boys State,’ which was released Aug. 14. Because Texas Boys State is hosted annually at UT, the Forty Acres became the backdrop of the film.
The film’s co-directors Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine said they first became interested in Texas Boys State after a 2017 Washington Post article revealed that year’s participants had voted to secede from the Union.
“(After) the election results of 2016, there were all kinds of questions for us about the health of our democracy, and was this secessionist vote as funny as (Boys State thought) it was?” McBaine said.
In the film, Garza seems an unlikely candidate for governor as he timidly approached the podium to give his first speech in the primary election for governor, but then he spoke.
In light of the previous year’s surprise secessionist vote, Garza decided to raise the issue up front. He said he knew that as a more progressive candidate, he had to pick a topic that would unify different ideologies.
“I didn’t know how it would play out, I even (said) it in the speech - ‘what I say next, I could get booed by you guys,’” Garza said. “I didn’t know what (was) gonna happen, but I knew that I at least wanted to take a stand against it, and after that, secession was no longer talked about.”
At a time of political polarization, McBaine said the film allowed them to explore current political questions through a different lens — a simulated one, with 17-year-olds.
“(The politics are) still fraught, and you see all kinds of stuff that’s problematic and frightening,” McBaine said. “But there’s also … a reminder of what there is to be hopeful for, and I think that’s probably what I was really looking for.”
Moss said that he hopes to see the leadership he saw at Boys State again in the future.
“I think there’s a recognition amongst young people that they have the voice, the strength and the experience to lead political movements,” Moss said.
Garza said he thinks the Boys State program and its goals of instilling bipartisan principles in the youth is something that is desperately needed. He said even though he was in the minority, he was still able to have an impact.
“For people like me and (international relations sophomore René Otero) who are again, in the racial, political minority, can we capture hearts and can we run campaigns to win people over?” Garza said. “A lot of people try to write the other team off. ‘You can’t reach out and get the other side and get them to vote for you, that’s not possible.’ I was able to do it.”