SAN ANTONIO, Texas – For over 150 years, mainstream Texas history books have been written as if Texas history begins in 1836.
By design, conventional Texas history books cut out or reject the foundation story of Texas, simply because it doesn’t fit the Sam Houston model.
Equally unfortunate, that restrictive method (l) tends to treat early (pre-1836) Texas history as Spanish & Mexican “foreign” history; and (2) ignores the direct connection between Native Americans and today’s Mexican-descent Texans and Southwest people. The result? Mainstream Texas history instruction omits the very roots of Texas. That is unfair to the memory of the Spanish Mexican Tejano founders of Texas. How can we fix this long-standing problem?
For about the last thirty years, a group of dedicated Tejano history aficionados of both Tejano and Anglo backgrounds have tried to offer a more fair and balanced account. However, selling that idea to a skeptical public raised on movie myth-inspired Texas history hasn’t been easy.
That said, the unveiling of the Tejano Monument in Austin in 2012 has finally popped that balloon of ignorance. The memorial now serves as a permanent beacon putting a spotlight on pre-1836 Texas people, places, and events. There have been other efforts to make Texas history curriculum more inclusive (see next paragraph). More recently, a dedicated effort supported by the Texas State Historical Association is about to bring together Tejano history stories with the goal of establishing a Tejano History Handbook Online.
Based on grass-roots petitions and testimony in 2010, the Texas State Board of Education agreed that the teaching of Texas history in the classroom is incomplete. As such, they approved the inclusion of some Spanish Mexican people in the STAAR social studies and Texas history school curriculum. It’s not much, but it’s a start.
Albeit, what is the main problem with the way Texas history is taught today? The clear answer is that mainstream Texas history at all levels tends to pigeonhole Texas history into three distinct eras: Spanish colonial, Mexican Republic, and Republic/State of Texas. Worse, as presented in the classroom, the first two eras are not connected to the third (Texas history). Such an approach implies that the people who lived during the first two eras have disappeared and thus are treated as detached (unconnected) parts of mainstream Texas history. The fact is that the descendants of the Spanish Mexican people who lived in the first two eras (pioneer settlers who founded Texas) are still here today in the form of Mexican-descent Texans.
Regrettably, generations of Mexican-descent Texas students have been treated as foreigners in their own homeland. They know little of their ancestors’ history. What are some lessons that a more open discussion of Texas history will provide Texas children? Below is a partial list of topics that especially Mexican-descent children in South Texas must discover, study, and get to know their impact on (help or hurt) Spanish Mexican people of the U.S. Southwest:
(l) The First Texas Independence occurred on April 6, 1813; (2) The 1836 Battles of the Álamo, Goliad, and San Jacinto are part of a chronological chapter in Mexico’s history, not the U.S. Mexico didn’t lose Texas, South Texas, & Southwest until 1848; (3) They must learn that in Texas in 1836, the Anglo immigrants from the U.S. were the aggressors, not General Santa Anna; and (4) they must learn that the name Álamo refers to the Presidio (no longer exists) and not to Mission San Antonio, sister mission to San José, San Juan, Concepción, and Espada.
(5) The real story as to how the U.S. “won” the west by following El Camino Real routes; (6) learn about “Borderlands” families that were split in two in 1848 as a result of the U.S. Mexico War; and (7) for high school and college students, develop lessons on the Mutualista Movement, Jovita Idar, LULAC, Mexican-descent military veterans; Dr. Hector P. Garcia and the American GI Forum, The Class Apart (1954 Supreme Court Decision – Hernandez v. Texas), 1964 Civil Rights Act, etc..
Other aspects of little-known early Texas history facts that Texas students must know in higher grades: (a) The Black Legend (Leyenda Negra); (b) Manifest Destiny; (c) Learn why and how U.S. encroachment into the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, Illinois, Mississippi Valley and the Northwest displaced existing Spanish settlements, presidios, and missions; (d) 1836 Texas Independence negative effect on Spanish Mexican-descent Texans (Tejanos);
In summary, nowhere else in history has one ethnic group robbed another group of its heritage to embellish their own. Yet, that’s what’s been done to the Álamo and La Bahia (Goliad) Presidio.
It’s time to honor these magnificent historical structures for their strength, beauty, and creativity of their Spanish Mexican builders. They must no longer be marketed only because armed Anglo expatriates from the U.S. died there.
So, what do we owe the memory of our Tejano ancestors, founders of Texas, and their growing number of descendants? We owe them inclusion in mainstream Texas history. The first chapters of our state’s history may be written in Spanish, but what’s wrong with admitting that Texas history is truly bi-cultural and bi-lingual? Simply stated, Tejano history is not a “separate but equal” history. Tejano history is and will always be Texas history.
José Antonio “Joe” 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.