SAN ANTONIO, March 3 - Next month (April) is one of the most important months in early Texas history.
In fact, April 2013 marks a number of “firsts” in our history: (l) first Texas Revolution (200th Anniversary; 1813-2013); (2) first president of Texas (José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara); (3) first Texas Declaration of Independence; and (4) first Texas Constitution.
Things were much different in Texas in the early 1800s. For starters, the U.S. Mexico border was all the way east at the Sabine River between Texas and Louisiana. Mexico’s northern territories encompassed today’s states of Texas, Nuevo México, Colorado, Arizona, and Las Californias, including parts of Utah and Nevada.
Coincidentally, two other significant events are creating headlines in South Texas. The first is the immigration debate. The second, oddly enough, is a move supporting increased trade with Mexico. That is good news; sort of.
First, bi-partisan efforts to fix our broken immigration system have quite suddenly and curiously reignited after four years of dormancy. Yet, in truth the immigration debate means different things to the two sides involved. Both sides do agree on securing the border, but the similarity in their positions ends there.
To one side, the most pressing issues are the fate of 11 million undocumented workers and citizenship for DREAM children. In human dignity terms, this is the nobler of the two sides.
To the other side, the most important issue is their demand for a 2,000 mile-long fence. This was obvious even a few days ago, when Senator McCain of Arizona’s town hall meeting was disrupted by a few individuals spewing violence. The most vocal members wrongly blame recent immigrants for the centuries-old Spanish Mexican culture on this side of the border. Worse, they use the foulest and most hateful words to express their opinion. We all know the type. On Sunday morning they pray for the poor and the immigrant. The other six days, they preach violence toward the same oppressed minority groups and anyone else who doesn’t look like them. It’s evident that those with this frame of mind don’t know or care how daily life and commerce within the Borderlands is being affected by the border wall.
So, with due respect for those with the latter view, I remind them that the U.S. is not the only power to try to insulate itself from its enemies by building a wall. Ironically, Mexico is not our enemy, but a friendly ally. That said, building a 2,000 mile long fence is not good neighbor policy. It’s more symbolic of the far-right extremist anti-diversity rhetoric. Whether it’s ever completed or not, the iron fence is an arrogant display of folly, similar to the Great Wall of China, Hadrian’s Wall in Britain, or the Berlin Wall in Germany.
As to the second news event; one of our two U.S. senators is shamelessly seeking Hispanic votes by promising increased trade opportunities with Mexico. He can’t have it both ways. He cannot with one hand actively help build the iron fence, while with the other shake Mexico’s hand. That is hypocrisy. Serious problems do exist on the border. However, they exist due to complex causes on both sides of the border. Problems will be solved only if we treat Mexico as an equal partner. As such, the following Borderlands history summary is offered to the bi-partisan committee members now actively studying the issue, plus readers who may wish to learn more of their history.
To begin with, where and what in the world are the Borderlands? In his book, “Tejano South Texas”, Author Daniel D. Arreola describes it as the Oriente (East) Command in New Spain, including the states of Coahuila, Nuevo León, Texas, and Nuevo Santander. The territory was expansive, stretching from Central Mexico to far and wide undetermined boundaries to the northeast and north. To the west sat the vast Nuevo México, what is now called the U.S. Southwest. The area’s population today shares family ties, language, religion, and heritage; hence, the name The Borderlands. Similar to German-speaking Alsace Lorraine (Moselle) in France, the U.S. has long denied the existence of the Borderlands as a shared community.
Much more important than its geographic description is the fact that Spanish Mexican explorers, missionaries, and pioneer and Native American people called it home. For example, the Rio Grande at that time was in the middle of this large “Outback” territory that lured only the daring brave who had the mettle to settle. The Rio Grande (then located well within the boundary of Nuevo Santander/Tamaulipas) was a local river in the middle of the northern portion of the Camino Real, where the same families lived and thrived on both sides of the Rio.
As discussed in a previous article, in 1848 the U.S. sliced off half of Mexico’s sovereign territory, taking also its Spanish-speaking population. Thus, close-knit families were split in two by this boundary that can only be described as a permanent Mason-Dixon Line of U.S. Civil War fame. (Unlike the Civil War, though, our families have never reunited.
Nonetheless, the U.S. still doesn’t recognize the Southwest as part of the larger territory of the Borderlands. They continue to do so at their own peril. Many of today’s problems on the border could be resolved if only U.S. officials meditated on and better understood the human aspects of the region. It is quite ironic that the vocal anti-immigrant few ranting for a higher fence and violence against the undocumented are all white-skinned immigrants of Anglo and Northern European descent. At the same time, those they persecute are brown-skinned human beings blessed by their skin color; proving they are descendants of the First Americans.
In summary, we must take a moment next month and remember our ancestor families. They merit our admiration. Equally important, let’s use the opportunity during the immigration debate to remind our elected officials not to blindly support the anti-diversity goals of a few extremists. Let’s embrace the long inclusive, bi-lingual history of the Borderlands. Say No to English Only.
Clearly, history teaches us that in the end, the 2,000 mile-long barrier will one day meet the same fate as the other absurd walls of fear. In time, the iron fence will become a rusting eyesore reminding us of the following prophetic lines in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem, Ozymandias:
My name is Ozymandias, king of kings.
“Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains ‘round the decay of that colossal wreck;
Boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away.
José Antonio (Joe) López was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and is a USAF Veteran. He now lives in Universal City, Texas. He is the author of two books: “The Last Knight (Don Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara Uribe, A Texas Hero),” and “Nights of Wailing, Days of Pain (Life in 1920s South Texas).” Lopez is also the founder of the Tejano Learning Center, LLC, and www.tejanosunidos.org, a Web site dedicated to Spanish Mexican people and events in U.S. history that are mostly overlooked in mainstream history books.