It seems that in our attempts to recover the strong Spanish Mexican roots of Texas and include them in mainstream Texas history curriculum, we take one step forward and two backward.
In retrospect, the 2012 unveiling of the Tejano Monument (pictured above) in Austin was supposed to challenge and then dismantle the myth that Texas history begins in 1836. Indeed, it was a major step forward toward a seamless rendering of Texas history.
For example, as proof of the Tejano Monument’s historical significance, the dedication of this first-ever memorial in our state capital honoring Texas’ Spanish Mexican founders, was hosted by Texas Governor Rick Perry himself. Truly, it was probably the only time that a major state event’s agenda in the capitol was “puro Tejano”. At least on March 29, 2012, the memory of our Spanish Mexican ancestors ruled the day.
Equally important, there were two other acts steering us ahead.
(l) In 2010, the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) reluctantly agreed with grass-roots testimony to include a few pre-1836 people, places, and events in the classroom.
(2) Led by policies initiated by former Texas General Land Office (GLO) Commissioner Jerry Patterson, the official Handbook of Texas History Online now includes a Tejano History Online.
So, the expectation in 2012 was that finally the SBOE would abandon its post-1836 Texas history strategy and agree to a more inclusive approach benefiting teachers, students, parents, and the general public.
Timing couldn’t be better. In just a few years from now Spanish-surnamed Texans will again reclaim the majority in a state founded by their ancestors. At a minimum, this unbroken link to the founding of Texas gives them ownership of Texas history. Yet, there’s more to the story.
Specifically, modern-day students will also get to know of the momentous 1960s journey to attain education for Mexican-descent citizens at a par with Anglo students. The struggle continued to ensure equality in employment and housing.
To be sure, the 1960s effort followed the path illuminated by returning WW II and Korean War vets. It was they who in fact demanded that the same freedoms they had fought for in battle overseas would also apply in their barrio.
Although, notwithstanding progress up-to-date, there’s still a huge boulder blocking that road. The SBOE-mandated list of recommended classroom textbooks continues to appallingly lack Mexican American-content books. As such, there was great hope that the SBOE would adopt books written by well-qualified Spanish-surnamed authors. Now, it seems that’s not the case at all.
The reason for that bleak assessment is the disappointing news that the SBOE appears to be taking a giant leap backward. That’s because they’re on the verge of approving a textbook written by a former SBOE member who holds blatantly negative views toward Mexican-descent Texans.
In short, the book relies on 1950s-style bigotry that demonizes Mexican Americans and Chicanos. Particularly, the book (a) considers Mexican Americans as mostly recent undocumented immigrants; (b) questions their patriotism and accuses them of failing to assimilate; and (c) misjudges the words Mexican Americans and Chicanos whom they refer to as subversives who scorn mainstream U.S. society.
In response, I offer the following. As to the first point (a), Texas Mexican Americans (Chicanos) today are the descendants of Spanish Mexican Tejanos who first invited and then gave Stephen F. Austin his land grants. In return for their goodwill, Mr. Austin said of his Mexicano and Mexicana friends in Texas, “This is the most liberal and munificent government on earth to emigrants.”
As to the second point (b), the unquestioned patriotism of Mexican-descent Texans has been amply cited by generals and admirals; awarding them with a high number of medals of valor, including the Medal of Honor for their bravery in defense of the U.S. As to assimilation, bicultural, bilingual Tejanas and Tejanos shouldn’t be penalized for preserving their unique heritage. Remember, Texas is in New Spain, not New England.
As to the third point (c), since it appears that many Anglo Texans fear the word “Chicano (Chicana)”, I offer this advice. The word Chicano is merely a shortened version (nickname) of the word Mexicano, pronounced in its original Mexica dialect. Equally important, Mexican American and Chicano Texans use both terms purely in a historically cultural sense, with absolutely no intended political identification or allegiance.
Cultural preservation is important. After all, Texas was first a province of New Spain (Mexico) before it became a slave state in the U.S. Incidentally, the Mexican flag is one of the six recognized flags of Texas. Truly, the tri-color Mexican flag has flown over Texas four times longer than Sam Houston’s Republic of Texas flag.
Most importantly, the first U.S. Anglo immigrants swore allegiance to the Mexican flag the symbol of Mexico, their new home. Also, to runaway slaves it represented freedom as they escaped to Texas from the U.S. before 1836.
Yet, the book’s writers fail to see the wisdom in Austin’s words in embracing his Mexicano brethren. It’s lamentable, but not surprising. Thus, because of its outright negative content, further analysis of equally offensive passages in the book serves no useful purpose. The question is how can we dismantle deceptive Texas myths that continue to ignore the Spanish Mexican legacy in Texas?
In one word, Education (no pun intended). The SBOE can do this in three easy steps. First, heed the clear Tejano Monument message. That is, Tejanos (of blended Spanish European and Native American bloodlines) are the true founders of Texas. Second, reject racist textbooks as the one currently being reviewed for adoption. Third, own up to the long-standing oversight and make early Texas history part of seamless mainstream Texas history in the classroom.
At this point, I remind readers that nowhere else in history has one ethnic group robbed another group of their heritage to embellish their own. Yet, that’s what Anglos have done to Texas history in general, and specifically, the Álamo and La Bahia Presidio in Goliad. These historic structures must no longer be marketed only because armed Anglo immigrants from the U.S. died there. They must be honored for their strength, beauty, and creativity of their Spanish Mexican builders.
Finally, in the sage words of the savvy mechanic in the old Fram oil filter commercial “You can pay me now or pay me later”. It is wise advice, considering that Mexican-descent Texans are poised to again take over as the majority group in Texas. So, they may one day have to dismantle Texas history myths (miseducation) themselves. Hopefully, the SBOE will choose for once to be proactive in taking the next step. Will it be forward or backward? It’s their choice. Proceed.