EDINBURG, February 24 - On March 6, Texans will celebrate the Battle of the Alamo of 1836 as the beginning of the quest for Texas Independence and liberty.
However, the true date should be August 18, 1813 when Tejano Col. Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara led a battalion of Tejanos and other mercenaries at the Battle of Medina near San Antonio.
This struggle in search of freedom ignited the initial thrust of the movement to free Tejanos from an unresponsive centralist government. One must remember that the northerners did not appear on Texas soil until 1824 when then Mexican-controlled Texas invited northerners to come and settle this state with the promise of close to four thousand acres of land given to each family.
The provisions were that all would become Mexican citizens, learn Spanish, establish schools in their colonies, convert to Catholicism, and become productive citizens of the country of Mexico. One of the first such “empresario” to bring in northern settlers in 1824 was Esteban F. Austin, who, with his perfect command of the Spanish language, was able to communicate effectively with the authorities in Mexico City, and Coahuila. Mexican land grants became part of the parcels offered to the incoming new settlers who made use of them, established colonies, settled into a life by merging with the Tejano communities around them. Northerners came into the state after the early Tejanos had already cleared the land, Christianized the Indian population, established most of the state’s institutions such as farming, ranching, cattle drives, churches, schools, religious institutions, municipalities, and banking .
During these early days certain rebellions set the tone for the now famous Battle of the Alamo of 1836. One must understand that revolts do not occur in a vacuum. They are thrust upon civilizations by political conditions occurring in other parts of the same world we all inhabit. One such event was our own American Revolution of 1776, whose ideas of freedom were carried on to France helping to spark the French Revolution of 1789; and these same ideas of liberty proclaimed by French philosophers such as Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rousseau, Saint Simon, and Quesnay also landed in México and were read by Padre Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, then a priest in a small village in the interior of Mexico who on September 16, 1810 and under the banner of “La Virgen de Guadalupe,” a woman of color proclaimed Mexico’s freedom from oppression, and from the abuses of the Spanish Government that had ruled Mexico since the beginning of the colonization efforts in 1521 and after Hernán Cortés had terminated the Conquest of Mexico that began in 1519.
It so happened that Texas, then inhabited by the state’s early settlers, the Tejanos, heard and answered Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla’s cry for freedom with two rebellions of their own:
A) The Captain Juan Bautista de las Casas Rebellion of January 21, 1811, at the Presidio San Antonio de Béxar against the Spanish authorities who then ruled Texas, and which was, in itself, a short-lived revolt but a true one in support of Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla’s Independence Movement that had also resonated throughout the Spanish Empire that reached into all corners of what is now the Southwestern United States. De las Casas proclaimed himself Head of the Provisional Government of Texas, and soon a counter-rebellion led by Juan Manuel Zambrano was initiated that squashed this first attempt at freedom by Tejanos. Captain de las Casas was later captured, shot and beheaded as an example to other who dared dream of freedom from the Spanish Royalists then governing Texas during those years;
B) The second rebellion was the Battle of Medina on August 18, 1813 that was fought 20 miles south of San Antonio and that was also a part of and in support of Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla’s Independence Movement from Spain. It was led by Tejano Col. Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara who with an army of close to 1,400 soldiers, made of Tejanos and non-Tejanos took up the efforts to free Texas from the Spanish Authorities. At this Battle of Medina 1813, close to 1,000 Tejanos perished in support of freedom from tyranny. Fighting along during this battle were Tejano patriots José Antonio de Navarro, and Francisco Ruiz, who later on also fought at the Battle of the Alamo of 1836, and who both signed the Texas Declaration of Independence.
Thus, it was, indeed, the Tejanos who primarily set into motion the framework, and the sentiment leading to the Battle of the Alamo of 1836 by first participating and dying in two previous rebellions - the de las Casas Rebellion of 1811 and the Battle of Medina of 1813.
These two conflicts in support of freedom from the Spanish Authorities culminated in achieving freedom in 1836 for all Tejanos and Texians ( non-Hispanics) then living in this state; and paved the way for the freedoms we all enjoy. This, then, destroys the John Wayne “a la Hollywood” myth of freedom loving Americans fighting an invading Mexican Army; a version that for decades has damaged the Tejano psyche since Tejanos look like the enemy, speak like the enemy, therefore, they are the enemy; giving birth to the “one does not give aid nor comfort to the enemy mentality” that permeated the state in some quarters for decades during the 20th Century. It was just recently with the unveiling of the long overdue Tejano Monument on the grounds of the state capitol that the State of Texas gave official recognition to the Tejanos as the early settlers and active participants in the making of this state. It should also help bestow on the Tejano community certain dignity and respect reflecting their role in the development of early Texas.
For decades now, Texas has had two versions of its state’s history. One in which one group bathes in its heroes, and its accomplishments that had its beginning after 1836; and the other one, the Tejano version dating back to November 6, 1528 when Hispanics first landed on Texas soil. This last version has been hidden, poorly researched and discussed only among Tejano families. However, with the emergence of the Tejanos as a prominent force in all areas of Texas activities, the Tejano Story will be told, thus helping Texas and all of its people find their true identity and at the same time liberating all Texans from the sometimes erroneous interpretation of the illustrious history of this state.
Dr. Lino García, Jr., is an eighth generation Tejano with ancestral Spanish Land Grants on Texas soil since 1767, nine years before the American Revolution. He holds the chair of Professor Emeritus at UTPA, and he can be reached at: LGarcia@UTPA.Edu