My name is Terry Canales and I have the privilege of serving as a Member of the Texas House of Representatives.
I also have the honor of being the great nephew of J.T. Canales who once upon a dark time in Texas also served as Texas State Representative for the very area we stand in today.
J.T. grew up on La Cabra Ranch in Premont, Texas with my Grandfather, his brother, the very same ranch I was raised at. As a young man I recall reading a two-volume story of the King Ranch written by Tom Lea.
I remember getting excited when I came across a passage in the book that quoted a letter from Captain King to Richard Kleberg which stated that the Kings could not have held on to their land if it wasn’t for their neighbor, Andres Canales. Andres, was my great grandfather, also J.T. Canales’ father.
I rushed to show my father the passage, and was surprised by his chuckle and his unforgettable remark. “He who has the money for the pen writes history.”
According to the oral history passed down to my father, the King Ranch was anything but the friendly neighbor portrayed in Mr. Lea’s book. The fact was that through fear, intimidation, violence, and often times murder, the Kings amassed their vast ranchlands.
As told to my father by his father, the violence and murders often took place at the hands of the Texas Rangers who served as mercenaries for Captain King. In the end the threat of a Mexican general kept the Kings at bay, leaving Andres, J.T.’s father as one of the only families who didn’t fall victim to the Texas Rangers and Captain King.
This would have made J.T. not only intimately aware of who the Texas rangers really were and what they were capable of, but it would set him on a one way collision course with the lawless lawmen, who threatened to take his father’s land.
As I mentioned, J.T. was later elected to the Texas House of Representatives. And in 1919 in the face of unspeakable violence being perpetrated across South Texas, J.T., the only Mexican-American legislator at the time, filed legislation to dramatically restructure the Texas Rangers who at the time were the largest perpetrators of gruesome executions of Mexican-Americans along the Texas-Mexico border.
As a result, J.T. Canales faced countless threats of violence, including death threats, and greatly endangered himself and his family by speaking out about these tragedies.
His legislation produced theree weeks of hearings, wherein more than 90 witnesses testified from throughout the state about the brutality of the Texas Rangers. Because the hearings’ content was so brutal, and reflected so poorly on the state, copies of the hearing transcript were not made accessible to the public until the 1970s.
J.T. is a true Mexican-American hero but the history books have largely forgotten him, along with the victims of these terrible crimes, and the family members of these victims. Our Texas history books literally make no mention of them.
Much like Tom Lea’s account of how the King Ranch was a friendly neighbor, History sanitized is not real history. But, today we hold the pen. The stories told on this historical marker and by the Refusing To Forget Project are an important part of a much larger story about the continual struggle of Texas Latinos, who have been fighting for equal rights since the foundation of this state.
In a time where the Texas State Board of Education continues to remove Hispanic figures from our textbooks, and refer to Mexicans as lazy, this story is more important than ever. Recently the Texas legislature passed SB4 one of the most discriminatory pieces of modern day legislation ever crafted. It unquestionably targets Mexican Americans, and once again pits the state police against the Hispanic community. Today we have traded the noose for handcuffs, and rather than law enforcement taking people’s lives in the literal sense, we take it in every other sense.
In the recent legislative session, I had the distinction of giving the final speech in opposition to Senate Bill 4. Invoking the story of La Matanza and the memory of J.T. Canales in my closing remarks to the House of Representatives, I told my fellow legislators that Texas had come far, but not that far.
Be it fate, destiny, or something else, I find it hard to believe its mere coincidence that 100 years after my great uncle waged a war against the violence perpetrated by the Texas Rangers, I have the great privilege to stand before you today, honored to have played a role in making this historical marker reality, and humbled by what it means.
A person much wiser than me once said, “those who forget their history are destined to repeat it.” It would be more convenient for people to forget that there was wide-spread state sanctioned violence against Mexican-Americans, but we must refuse to forget.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The above remarks were delivered by Texas state Rep. Terry Canales at the unveiling ceremony for a new historical marker on the frontage of I-69 East in San Benito that recognizes the massacre of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in South Texas from 1910-1920. Photos courtesy of Alex Rios/Terry Canales.