Happy Cinco de Mayo! Right off, two particular questions are often asked regarding this popular date, a favorite money-making event within the U.S. advertising industry (estimated at $1.5 Trillion in 2015):
(1) Is it Mexico’s Independence Day? The answer is “No”. It marks the date of a decisive battle in Mexico’s history called the Battle of Puebla, fought on May 5, 1862.
(2) If Texas was already part of the U.S. in 1862, why is El Cinco de Mayo observed in the U.S.?
Answer: There are two main reasons: (a) General Ignacio Zaragoza was born in Goliad, Texas. He led the Mexican Army that beat French General Charles de Lorencez at the Battle of Puebla; and (b) Texas, a former province (state) of Mexico, had been in the U.S. for only 14 years.
Even though horrid anti-Mexican prejudice had already begun in Texas, Tejanos still had immediate and extended family members living in Mexico. Thus, in spite of bigotry at home, they quickly volunteered to help their parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, etc. in their time of need. By the way, those blood-related family ties are still visible today throughout the vast bi-national region called The Borderlands.
How bad was the discrimination against Mexican-descent Texans? As bad as it gets. Reflecting the mood in the U.S. at the time, South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun raged against the inhabitants of the newly acquired territory of Texas and the Southwest by expressing the following rebuke against our ancestors on the floor of the U.S. Senate in 1848:
“…Sir, that we have never dreamt of incorporating into our Union any but the Caucasian race—the free white race. To incorporate Mexico, would be the very first instance of the kind of incorporating an Indian race; for more than half of the Mexicans are Indians, and the other is composed chiefly of mixed tribes. I protest against such a union as that! Ours, sir, is the Government of a white race. … It is now professed to place these Mexicans on an equality with the people of the United States. I protest utterly against such a project.”
Indeed, Senator Calhoun attacked our Borderlands family tree’s twin roots at the same time. Sadly, symptoms of his hostility remain in today’s U.S. mainstream society.
That’s why sharing celebrations such as Cinco de Mayo reminds us of our mutual heritage of Native American and Spanish European bloodlines all along the U.S. Mexico border.
That’s not to say their initial meeting was cooperative. Stemming from worlds apart, first contact between the two forces was certainly a violent clash. Yet, as the encounter cooled, it melded, forming a new mold. That mix of brown-skin Native American culture (copper) with white European Spanish (tin) created a new race of bronze-skin people — half brown, half white. In Spanish, the new race (raza) is commonly known as: “gente de bronce” (bronze people).
Sadly, even though the origin of Mexican-descent Texans rests on strong family values, the long-standing negative view among Anglo and Northern European-descent U.S. society persists. Generally, they misjudge our genealogical connection to Mexico. Likewise, many Mexican-descent citizens themselves are unaware of their fascinating history, mostly because they’ve been taught to shun their Mexican-linked past. It’s with that thought in mind that the following additional words are provided.
As mentioned above, there’s no doubt that today’s Mexican-descent (mestizo) people are a product of adversity. The culture clash that ensued between the Spanish and indigenous people, in human endurance terms, symbolizes a large melting pot.
As an aside, “gente de bronce” in America stretch beyond Mexico, because the same Native American-Spanish European ancestries extend to the tip of Tierra del Fuego. (Spanish DNA traits are also significantly found in other areas around the globe.)
Here in the U.S., life has not been easy for gente de bronce. After 1848, humiliation of the conquered people was the rule from Texas to California. For generations, they have fought battles of a different kind; for justice, equality, and acceptance. Confronting hardship head-on, they began to defy an entrenched U.S. colonial-style social order standard, not unlike the mid-1800s English Raj-type of unfair rule in India.
Unable to remove our Mexican-descent and Native American ancestors, mainstream society conveniently pushed the newest U.S. citizens into the lowest social status. Not only were they treated unjustly, official laws were passed in Texas to keep them “in their place”. Such mandates continued unabated for over 100 years. For descendants of the founders of Texas, equality was not assured (by the U.S. Supreme Court) until 1954.
We’ve made some progress, but the struggle continues. Sadly, many of today’s Mexican-descent young people find it hard to believe that demeaning, undignified bigotry was common in their parents’ daily lives!
In being able to attend college, eat at the restaurant of their choice, or live where they want to live, Mexican-descent students of today must recognize and pay tribute to the fighting spirit of their elders. They are the ones who won numerous battles without bullets to assure their children didn’t’ suffer indignities they were forced to endure for generations.
In summary, discussing our “gente de bronce” family history may be painful for some of their descendants, but it’s crucial that present and future generations remember the past. A key point is this: To understand where you are, you must consider where you’ve been.
So, it is with gente de bronce descendants in Texas, who are “Mexican” only in a genealogical (not a political) sense of the word. That’s because our antecedents were Mexicans (Mexicanos) before they became U.S. citizens. Moreover, it’s not by accident that the southwest indigenous tribes’ homeland (Apachería) straddles both countries and is actually home to the children of several identifiable groups — Pueblo, Hopi, Yuma, Pima, Zuni, Navajo, and Apache. Said another way, we possess the very same distinct DNA attributes in spirit and physical appearance that Senator Calhoun disparaged so many years ago.
Lastly, for those of us here in Texas, the water (agua) of the Rio Grande doesn’t separate us from our sisters and brothers in Mexico. It unites us through both blood and soul as manifested in those days of a bygone era when our Tejano ancestors valiantly crossed el Rio Grande to fight for liberty. ¡Viva el General Ignacio Zaragoza! ¡Viva el Cinco de Mayo 2017!