SAN ANTONIO, Texas – “The Anglo Americans who came to Texas with Stephen F. Austin were not in the true sense pioneers; they found not a wilderness but a society already in existence…”
These words were written by Historian John Francis Bannon in his book, “The Spanish Frontier in America, 1513-1821”.
Author Bannon is referring to the unique Tejano mystique. Truly, Tejano society lured Anglos both legally and illegally to immigrate to Mexico; abandoning the U.S. to start life anew in México. Nevertheless, those same U.S. immigrants betrayed their host country of México shortly after arriving. They didn’t like Mexican laws abolishing slavery, (in 1829, México was the first country in America to do so).
Thus, after 1836 Texas independence, the Anglos made a conscious decision to start writing Texas history on a clean slate. That is, they would pretend there was no existing society and that Texas was a wilderness. Albeit, their choosing to retain the name “Texas” (its Spanish name since 1691) exposes their obvious duplicity. Regardless, the Anglos built their Manifest Destiny-inspired myth on a literary stone wall hiding pre-1836 Texas (Tejano) history.
Now, over 150 years later, The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) members act as modern-day sentries atop the stonewall of silence prohibiting Texas students from learning the true facts of their state’s founding. Just recently, grass-roots Texas citizens, parents, and educators appealed to the board to teach Texas students the seamless history of Texas through a Mexican American Studies (MAS) Program. The SBOE responded negatively. They disagreed to establish a MAS Program because even after 150 years, they ignore the real founding of Texas. In part, they claim among other things that “We mustn’t teach Mexico’s history in America.” There are at least three problems with their Anglophile position.
First, MAS is about teaching Texas history, not about today’s Republic of Mexico. Southwest Mexican-descent citizens with pre-1848 ancestry number about 20 million. Thus, we descendants of the first citizens of Texas are not immigrants. That reality is what separates us from our sister Hispanic groups in the U.S. That’s the point that conservative SBOE members fail to comprehend.
Second, Mexico is in America. The U.S. is not America. The U.S. is in America. There are 36 countries in America. Everyone born or living in the Continent of America (from Northern Canada to the tip of South America’s Tierra del Fuego) is an American.
Third, our Spanish Mexican Tejano story doesn’t fit the Sam Houston model. Thus, the SBOE won’t accept Tejanos and Tejanas as the true founders of this great place we call Texas.
On its own merits, the MAS program is all about education and only seeks to restore pre-1836 people, places, and events in the chronology of Texas history. The question is why is the SBOE so adamant in insisting Texas history begins in 1836? In my opinion, their intolerance toward Texas’ Mexican roots is caused by a persistent toxic political tone. That atmosphere is created by conservatives’ perception of anything Mexican only in terms of the current immigration reform and border fence contentious debates.
A broader question is why should Mexican-descent Texans care about Mexico? Here’s why. (l) The overwhelming majority of our Tejano families originate in Mexican population centers of Monterrey, Saltillo, Zacatecas, Queretaro, Monclova, and the surrounding ranchos of Central and Northern Mexico. Some of us still have active links with our family south of the Rio Grande; separated since 1848. In addition, being Mexican allows us to claim blood connections to our Native American roots. In this regard, the SBOE must be reminded that Texas is in New Spain (Old México), not New England.
As remedial training for SBOE members, I offer three quick lessons: (a) Texas was part of Mexico during the 1836 Battles of the Álamo, La Bahia, and San Jacinto. (2) The three battles are part of the chronological chapter in Mexico’s history, not the U.S. This was Mexican sovereign land until 1848. And (3) the tri-color flag of Mexico flew over Texas four times longer (21 years) than Sam Houston’s Republic of Texas flag (five years). The reason that Houston’s flag flew only five years is that so unprepared were the Anglos for total independence that they didn’t even have a flag other than the Mexican Constitution Flag identical to the one many Anglos in Texas today repudiate. Curiously, they don’t realize that their Anglo ancestors once pledged allegiance to the tri-color (verde, blanca, y colorada) Mexican Flag of Texas. The Republic of Texas flag was not approved until around 1840 when talk of Texas joining the U.S. as a slave state had already started.
Here’s a Texas history pilón (bonus) for the Texas SBOE. Be advised that Texas was part of Mexico during the first Mexican Revolution of 1810. Accordingly, September 16, 1810 (El Dieciséis) is a legitimate holiday in Texas because it represents its first independence day. Pre-1836 people, places, and events are the essentials that make Texas history bi-cultural and bi-lingual.
In conclusion, I address a most important point to the current Texas SBOE. The MAS is not about ethnic studies or multi-culturalism in Texas. That’s the responsibility of the Institute of Texan Cultures in San Antonio. MAS is about rendering Texas history in a seamless manner from the arrival of the first European Spanish in 1519 to the present. Mexican-descent children in Texas must learn about their Spanish Mexican ancestors in the classroom; an honor that we were deprived of when we attended school.
We’re making progress. As an example I refer to the Tejano Monument. It’s the first memorial in Austin honoring Texas’ Spanish Mexican founders. It’s becoming a popular site, but it represents only the start of the Tejano Renaissance. We knew it wouldn’t be easy to dismantle the 150-year old stone wall of silence. Echoing the words of President Ronald Reagan, “Governor Perry, tear down this wall.” Even so, our efforts are paying off. It’s starting to crumble. So let’s keep our Tejano trumpets blowing loud and clear until the stone wall falls. Yes, we can! (¡Sí se puede!)
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 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.