EDINBURG, RGV – Last month a much awaited statue of Col. José de Escandón y Helguera was officially unveiled and made available for students and community individuals to view and learn about the accomplishments of this military man called the ‘Father of South Texas.’
The vision for such an event occurred to me almost 36 years ago, when I wrote a letter to the editor of the McAllen Monitor informing the public of a need for a statue of such an illustrious individuals that few people knew anything about at that time.
Such indication went unnoticed for several decades; however, it is my belief that historical events are realized only when certain segments of the population are ready, are in need of such a symbol, and are prepared to embrace the idea. This realization occurred this past November 18, 2014 on the campus of UTPA giving full strength to what I call the Renaissance of Hispanic Culture/History Awareness that had its beginning during the last few decades of late 20th, and into the 21st. centuries; an evolution of thinking that can only advance all Texans’ eminent future achievements. Since Texas Hispanics are poised to become a dominant force in the social/economic/cultural mosaic of this state, it is important that citizens from all backgrounds know and understand their co-workers/friends within their daily business/social/cultural environment.
For decades, Hispanics and others citizens of this state have been denied access to early Colonial Spanish Texas history, one that details the accomplishments of such individuals as Col. José de Escandón y Helguera, who in 1749 brought settlers into newly established ‘villas’ along the Río Grande or Río Bravo. These hardy frontiersmen and women were work – ethics driven, who trail blazed an area by clearing the land, Christianizing the Native-Americans via Christian Missions, and who established many of the early institutions of Texas, also setting the high standards under which we all live and survive.
Their descendants, later known as Tejano, are still very much active in all activities that define the region, and whose character elements are derived from the life of Col. José de Escandón y Helguera, who was born of wealthy and prominent families in Soto la Marina, Santander, Spain in 1700. He soon chose a military life, and was then sent by the Spanish Crown to ‘La Nueva España’ where he conducted military expeditions with exact precision, earning the respect of his superiors.
It is no wonder, then, that when a decision was made by the Spanish Viceroy to settle this area known as the ‘Seno Mexicano’ Col. José de Escandón y Helguera was chosen. With a total of 1,500 soldiers Escandón proposed that seven ‘entradas’ be made all to converge on the Río Grande, Río Bravo or Ría de las Palmas (as Capitain Alonso de Pineda called it in 1519). Thus, on September, 1746 Col. José de Escandón y Helguera was duly appointed to carry on this series of settlements, called ‘villas.’
The following are his ‘villas’ established in 1749 in both what is now Northern México and South Texas, but then called ‘La Nueva España’:
1.) Llera – the first settlement founded and named after Escandón’s wife – Doña Josefa de Llera y Ballas.
2.) La Villa de Santa Ana de Camargo, settled by my own ancestors – the Longoria-Chapa families and other early pioneers. At this event festivities were held to celebrate that included wine, drums beating, a flag flying, and a Holy Mass commemorating this historic settlement.
3.) Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Reynosa, under the command of Capitain Carlos Cantú whose direct descendant is Mr. John Cantú, the benefactor of this statue celebrated on campus of UTPA.
4.) La Villa de San Ignacio de Revilla, later known as Guerrero.
5.) Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, on the north bank of the Río Grande, the area now known as South Texas.
6.) La Villa de la Purísima Concepción de Mier.
7.) San Augustín de Laredo, founded on the north bank of the Río Grande, a city now known as Laredo.
One of the earliest Spanish frontiersman to whom South Texas and Northern México is indebted is Col. José de Escandón y Helguera. He and his early Spanish settlers, later on known as ‘Tejano Vaqueros,’ made great contributions in terms of ranching, Christian Missions, presidios, commerce, cattle raising/cattle drives for profit, farming, and mining. Thus, this statue, now permanently a part of the new UT-RGV, is a symbol and a presence of a heritage that set the foundation for the culture now enjoyed by all Texans.
A great ‘Thank You’ to Mr. John Cantú and family for their generous gift of the statue of Col. José de Escandón y Helguera given to the students and community individuals of this area; a statue now adorning the campus of the soon to be UT-RGV.
Brownsville native Dr. Lino García, Jr., holds the chair of Professor Emeritus of Spanish Literature at UTPA. He can be contacted at: [email protected]