Readers of the Rio Grande Guardian should by now be familiar with an energized emphasis on early Texas history.

In particular, they’re finding out that even though March 2 is celebrated as Texas Independence Day, much is missing in the mainstream story of Texas independence.

Lt. Col. José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara (1774-1841). First President of Texas, April 6, 1813.
Lt. Col. José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara (1774-1841). First President of Texas, April 6, 1813.

In fact, there were three major attempts to make Texas independent (1813, 1819, and 1836).

(l) The first is April 6, 1813 Provincia Independiente de Texas under Colonel José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara Uribe. Its credentials are solid: the first Texas Declaration of Independence and first Texas Constitution. Learning only this should convince apprehensive Mexican-descent Texans that they have ownership of Texas history.

(2) In 1819, our ancestors took part in James Long’s effort, with Gutiérrez de Lara serving as Long’s Vice President.

(3) In 1836, Sam Houston took over a work in progress. That’s because as federalists, Tejanos and Tejanas had likewise begun this effort before it was commandeered by U.S. Anglo expatriates. Too, Tejanos had already done the heavy lifting, sacrificing, and dying for Texas liberty.

Moreover, although not appreciated for its historical value, South Texas (Rio Grande Valley) gave birth to Las Villas del Norte. Along with San Antonio, Nacogdoches (Los Adaes), and La Bahia (Goliad), it’s one of the first regions to be settled in what’s now Texas.

Respectful recognition of Las Villas is most critical. Why? Many Rio Grande Valley residents’ family trees include common traits planted by Count José de Escandón in Nuevo Santander, 1749-1755, part of a mega geographic expanse on both banks (ambos lados) of the Rio.

Yet, the mandated curriculum taught in the classroom pretends that Texas history begins in 1836, thereby denying its basic Spanish Mexican origins. That’s equivalent to New York rejecting its New Amsterdam (Dutch) beginnings or Louisiana discarding its French panache. Said another way, it’s time for seamless Texas history.

Worse, mainstream society attributes our lengthy Spanish Mexican heritage in Texas as a consequence of recent immigration. Toward that end, a growing number of historians, professors, teachers, lecturers, and private citizens continue to share our unique heritage reminding Texas residents and tourists of this fact: The Tejano Monument in Austin depicts Texas’ true beginnings.

My suggestion is we form a united family of Texas patriots, aptly expressed as “Descendants of the Republics of Texas (DRT)”, – a new DRT.

The group’s number one goal is simple: to explain a long standing mystery. That is, why are so many Spanish words deeply embedded in conventional Texas history (Álamo, San Antonio, La Bahia/Goliad, Refugio, Victoria, etc.), but the corresponding Spanish Mexican people who put them there are not?

Equally important, the new DRT seeks to restore traditions such as the Vaquero, Quinciañera celebrations, etc. as the legacy given to us by our ancestors, founders of Texas. We’re making progress. Thanks especially to Mr. Renato Ramírez, Zapata, TX, Mariachi music is now part of the UT and TAM bands.

The following anecdote offers still another aspect of the dilemma that the new DRT will ultimately resolve through education. During a presentation at a school campus, I challenged my young audience of junior high school students to learn more about Father Miguel Hidalgo’s inspirational role in early Texas history.

While I waited in the school library for the next class, an irate Texas history teacher walked up to me and sounded upset. She said that several students who had attended my presentation returned to class asking her for computer lab passes to learn about Padre Hidalgo. She then said, “I thought your talk was about Texas history, not Mexico”.

Politely I responded, “Ma’am, I only mentioned to them that Father Miguel Hidalgo is also a hero in Texas”. “What do you mean?” she asked in amazement. “With all due respect”, I said, “The first Texas Revolution in 1813 resulted from Father Hidalgo’s “Grito” (call) for independence, since Texas was part of Mexico at the time”.

“Well, that’s not the way we teach it,” she said; and walked back to her classroom. In my view, she was adhering to an exclusive concept called “American Exceptionalism” wherein Anglo Saxon- and Northern European-descent people in Texas are praised, while the direct, inherited Texas-Mexico link is deliberately rejected.

Sadly, that Manifest Destiny approach ignores Texas’ true roots: (a) Las Villas del Norte and their beautiful formal process of awarding Porciones, (b) the birth of ranchos and vaquero (cowboy) ways of life, and (c) El Camino Real’s founding and sustaining the first towns deep in the heart of Texas.

Candidly, while American Exceptionalism teaches that Texas was created in 1836, the facts say otherwise. Texas was already 145 years old when Sam Houston and the other U.S. expatriates arrived in Mexico!

Texas was born in 1691 as a northern province (Provincia Interna) of New Spain (Mexico). Pioneer men and women of strong stock, faith and grit, settled the most dangerous, northeastern extremes of New Spain. Their distinct Texas freedom lifestyle was evident from the start. In the words of my great, great grandfather, Blas Maria Uribe Gutiérrez de Lara, “En paz y libertad, obremos” (Let us work in peace and liberty).

Mexican-descent U.S. citizens who may wonder if they are part of this unique new DRT legacy should be encouraged by the following:

(A)  The words Tejanas and Tejanos are inclusive. 1840s-50s ethnic-cleansing drives forced many Tejano families from Austin, San Antonio, Nacogdoches, and Goliad to move south. Sadly, many displaced families never returned to their homeland of Texas. The only way to find out if your family has Texas connections is to do some homework. Find out by studying your family history.

(B) The U.S.-Mexico Border, drawn by the U.S. in 1848 in the middle of “Old Mexico” remains a permanent Mason-Dixon Line dividing blood-related families. That’s why many Mexican citizens today have Texas roots and may not know it.

In summary, to borrow from today’s internet language, the new DRT is the same as the Refresh and Restart keys on your computer. The first chapters of Texas history may be written in Spanish, but it’s the only way to explain why we speak Spanish “on this side of the border”.

Lastly, following is a partial list of recommended books on early Texas and Southwest history:  Tejano Empire (Andrés Tijerina); Life along the Border (Jovita González); With his pistol in his hand, (Américo Paredes); A Wild and Vivid Land (Jerry Thompson); A Land So Strange (Andrés Reséndez); Tejano South Texas (David Arreola); Spanish Texas, 1519-1821 (Don Chipman); Inherit the Dust from the Four Winds of Revilla (José M. Peña).

Also, The Texas Connection with the American Revolution (Robert Thonhoff); De León, A Tejano Family History (Carolina Crimm); The Spanish Borderlands Frontier, 1513-1821 (John Francis Bannon); The Spanish Frontier in North America (David J. Weber); Exodus from the Alamo (Philip Tucker); Trespassers in our own Land (Mike Scarborough); Salt Warriors (Paul Cool), and my own contribution, “The First Texas Independence, 1813” (José Antonio López).

My sincere apologies go to many other authors whose works are helping to enlarge this field of research material.