SAN ANTONIO, Texas – During the spirited debate on the selection of the Vaquero as the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) mascot, two camps quickly emerged.
On one side are people of the Rio Grande Valley who respect their vaquero ancestors and are excited to get the recognition. On the other side are people who view the symbol of the vaquero in negative terms.
First, let me explain that my wife and I have travelled extensively within the Rio Grande Valley. So, through my early Texas history presentations to a variety of audiences throughout the region, I am able to form an idea as to how much or how little people tend to value the preservation of the vaquero tradition. As such, I offer the following thoughts. To begin the discussion, either Valley citizens support preserving the vaquero in Texas history or they don’t. Who is right?
To find out, we need to consider the three groups that in my opinion are engaged in the conversation: (l) Believers in the vaquero tradition; (2) Learners who are just now becoming aware of their lost history; and (3) Skeptics who refuse to recognize the honorable vaquero as the main root of all Texas icons.
Included are folks who have been raised on oral history stories. Because most mainstream Texas history books still present history as if it begins in 1836, vaquero heritage believers are well equipped to defend their heritage. They have not forgotten the essential details they received as children. In fact, many of them have enhanced their knowledge. For example, they join Hispanic genealogy and history organizations that spread the word about the true foundation of Texas. Also, and most important, they tend to pass the information on to their children.
In turn, the children get a taste of their deserved ownership of Texas history. That makes them feel good about themselves. Several times during my visits to school campuses throughout South Texas, I have heard supportive comments from a few of the students, such as — “My father suggested I tell you that we come from Las Villas del Norte…”. That indicates that the legacy thread is still there and is being passed on to future generations.
In short, Believers are not bashful in showing that it’s an honor to stand up for the dignity and respect of their ancestors. Equally important, they know that being proud of their Mexican roots doesn’t mean national allegiance to the present-day Republic of Mexico. For years, they have developed a strong character by having the courage to stand up to ridicule from others in steadfastly defending their Texas heritage. They are confident that one day soon, children of all backgrounds will be taught about the real founders of Texas in the classroom. Thus, the word that best describes this group is “optimism.”
In this group are people who are totally awed at how much history is involved. They absorb the information like a sponge. Quite predictably, they are the most receptive. Most of them thirst for knowledge. Long deprived from learning of their roots in the classroom, they wish to learn more as adults.
They purchase early Texas history books at Hispanic genealogy and history conferences, simply because they want to gather as much information as possible. They meet primos and primas (cousins) they didn’t know they had. They exchange phone numbers; street and email addresses, and so forth. Primarily, they begin to build on their genealogy and family trees. (By the way, the most recent annual Texas State Hispanic Genealogy and History Conference was held September 25-28, 2014) in McAllen, Texas. If you wish to join other Learners, the next (36th) conference will be held in Laredo, Texas, October 8-11, 2015.) The word to describe this group is “enthusiasm.”
Included in this group are Mexican-descent folks who question the value of their culture in Texas. They don’t accept the fact that they have ownership of Texas history; nor do they consider their early Texas history worthy of pride. Many don’t claim it at all and, feeling uncomfortable, would rather forget about it. In my view, they are not to blame. For generations, they’ve been told that pre-1836 Texas history is not important because of its connection to Mexico. In short, ridicule of someone’s heritage can be cruel and harsh.
Therefore, to avoid the humiliation altogether, some Mexican-descent parents in Texas stopped believing that their traditions on this side of the border were worth fighting for. Somewhat timid and unwilling to stand up to the scorn and fight the negative perceptions head-on, they gave in to the pressure a long time ago. Thus, to cope, they encourage their children not to display any form of their Spanish Mexican heritage, lest they be shunned by mainstream society.
Equally, in reading the clear cues from their elders, the children find themselves at a disadvantage. They think that by admitting to their Mexican heritage they will be considered as foreigners (recent immigrants) in a state that their ancestors established. For example, they are unaware that some of them have genealogy in Texas for 8 to 10 generations. (Note: Most Mexican-descent children in Texas have Native American roots that go back for thousands of years.) Oddly, some of them wonder why so much Spanish Mexican terminology is embedded throughout Texas, but are unable to explain it. Regardless, they believe that a way of life they’ve been taught to see as demeaning sets them apart from conventional society. In contrast to Believers, they don’t understand that pride in their Mexican heritage doesn’t mean allegiance to Mexico.
Sadly, change often brings resistance and that is what most likely happened when the vaquero was announced as the mascot. In short, old habits are hard to change. When skeptics see the evidence of the beauty of their vaquero heritage (Tejano Monument, for example), they don’t want to believe because they still see the symbols of their unique heritage (such as the vaquero) in disapproving terms. Thus, the word that best describes this group is “pessimism.”
In the final analysis, the current debate regarding whether the term “Vaquero” is an asset or a liability to the proud Mexican-descent citizens of the Rio Grande Valley will most probably continue. Resolution as to the final outcome is up to the influence of the three groups involved; believer, learner, or skeptic. I’m a believer. Which are you?
José “Joe” Antonio 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 three books: “The Last Knight (Don Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara Uribe, A Texas Hero),” “Nights of Wailing, Days of Pain (Life in 1920s South Texas).” and, “The First Texas Independence, 1813.” 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.