SAN ANTONIO, February 10 - In a recent article appearing in the Rio Grande Guardian, Dr. Lino Garcia, Jr., of UT-Pan American, writes on the merits of South Texas bilingualism.
Not only does the superb essay debunk popular myths, but it also provides interesting details of some of the world’s languages. Specifically, I make note of Dr. Garcia’s closing, “… Hispanics are poised to become an eminent force … during the 21st Century, they will bring to its fruition a true … bilingual society, where English and Spanish languages are equally given the status they both deserve.”
Dr. Garcia’s timely words add value to an additional characteristic that best describes a large segment of this group of U.S. citizens. The fact is that some of us are the Children of Escandón, descendants of the first citizens of Texas, specifically South Texas. We are not immigrants to the U.S., since our families were already here in 1848 when the U.S. took the land from Mexico. Too, because our family roots exist on each side (ambos lados) of the Rio Grande, we speak both English and Spanish to communicate in our daily lives. These distinct features make our history unique; worth preserving and protecting.
Yet, there are some who take a negative view. For example, a state first settled by Spanish Mexican pioneers, Arizona has become a laboratory of sorts specializing in anti-Mexican culture legislation. These are disturbing signs. Worse, the same bigotry also exists in Texas. As such, the rest of this article is a reminder of why fighting back to preserve our heritage is so important. The following is especially dedicated to Rio Grande Guardian readers of Mexican-descent, particularly college students and anyone who is 50 years old or younger.
Young people must be reminded that there was a time when their parents and grandparents did not have the freedoms we now take for granted. Most were doomed to life as common laborers. Education for Mexican-descent children was limited. In many communities, their normal classroom attendance stopped in seventh grade; most barely completed third grade.
As soon as reaching their pre-teen years, Mexican niñas and niños in South Texas (Rio Grande Valley) were expected to face life as ranch workers. For females looking for work outside the home, that normally meant working as maids, servants, custodians, and field workers. Males were expected to work as ranch hands, field laborers, and filling other subservient roles. There was no upward mobility.
Up to the 1960s, about the time many of you were born, countless South Texas public establishments displayed undignified “No Mexicans Allowed” signs. It was a humiliation suffered by U.S. citizens of Mexican-descent. In the end, the long fight for equality was fought hard and won. In that respect, we have LBJ and our activist elders of La Raza Unida, LULAC, the American GI Forum, and many other groups to thank for the many rights we now enjoy. Still, as outrageous as it sounds in the 21st Century, intolerant extremist right-wing politicians are pushing to undo the human rights network of laws that opened the doors of opportunity for Mexican-descent citizens of the Southwest. It’s important we stop them. The following further adds depth to our Spanish Mexican heritage and is the main reason why we must fight back.
Guardian readers of Mexican-descent should beam with pride that by 1620, the year the Mayflower landed on the east coast, Santa Fe, Nuevo México had already been established. In 1598, the First Thanksgiving Feast between Europeans and Native Americans occurred near San Elizario, Texas (then part of Nuevo México). In 1564, Santa Barbara, Chihuahua was established. Monclova, Coahuila was settled in 1577; Monterrey in 1596. Why are these cities in Mexico important in Texas and U.S. history? The answer is quite simple. The U.S.-Mexico border was not the political boundary it is today. The region was all part of New Spain (Mexico) populated by the same families.
In particular, by 1776 the banks of the Lower Rio Grande were already blooming with several vibrant Spanish Mexican (& Native American) communities established by our ancestors under the leadership of colonizer Don José de Escandón (1700-1770). In addition to Escandón, the names of de la Garza, Falcón, Sánchez, Gutiérrez, Martinez, Vasquez-Borrego, Uribe, and other pioneer families are important in founding the Villas del Norte. Besides the Villas, the Camino Real was pumping Spanish Mexican blood into the arteries of the Heart of Texas, with sister communities in San Antonio, Nacogdoches and La Bahia (Goliad).
Spanish-speaking founder names include de León, Schiapapria (Chapa), Longoria, Ramón, Manuela Sánchez, St. Denis, Gil Ybarbo, Father Miguel Hidalgo, Gutiérrez de Lara, Martin and Patricia de León, Carvajal, Manchola, plus many others. As a bonus, many of us are proud of our strong Native American (Mexican) and Sephardic Jewish genealogy. Quite clearly, New Spain pioneer stories are equal in all attributes to any of the English colonies of New England.
The question is where did our ancestors come from? The answer is they came from Monclova, Monterrey, Saltillo, Queretaro, and Zacatecas, to name a few population centers in Northern and Central Mexico. These cities represent the Bostons, Baltimores, and Philadelphias of English-descent U.S. citizens. Sadly, when the U.S. Mexico boundary was set at the Rio Grande in 1848, the political axe arbitrarily split the Escandón communities in half, with little thought given to the long-term effects of separating close-knit family units. Those living on the northern bank became Texas and then U.S. citizens; those living on the southern bank remained citizens of Mexico. Thus, with common, cohesive heritage and language, residents on both sides of the border look the same.
In summary, communicating in two languages is a most precious ability. It is a reality that U.S. big business and the advertising industry have been quick to tap into. In short, as my friends Elisa Gutiérrez and Bibi Garza-Gongora from Laredo aptly put it, “El que habla dos idiomas, vale por dos.”
My message is simply this. The special feeling some of us experience when we speak Spanish to one another on this side of the Rio Grande is defined by “orgullo” (pride). However, in Spanish Mexican culture the word orgullo rises above the word pride. “Orgullo en quien somos” is a phrase tightly packed with ancient family values and kinship symbolism. So, whether we’re descendants of the original, non-immigrant 1750s Villas del Norte pioneers; or first- or second-generation U.S. citizens of Mexican-descent, we are all as one.
Finally, the Tejano Monument in Austin is a great first step and acts as a permanent visual aid helping others to learn about the true roots of this great place we call Texas. We must continue to transform the Tejano story night into day. Together, let us restore the past glory of our early Texas pioneer families. We must do so because if we don’t do it ourselves, no one else is going to do it for us. Equally important, the key to success is education. So we must keep our kids in school so that they can graduate from a four-year college/university and become productive members of their community. We must do these things for another very special reason: We are the Children of Escandón.
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.