This past May, I was honored to be part of the first-ever Tejano History Conference in Goliad, Texas.
Candidly, it was a humbling experience for me, because I shared the speaker’s podium with the following super heroes in the writing of early (pre-1848) Texas history:
-Dr. Thomas Kreneck, the event’s co-organizer, author, and Founder Curator of the Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Mexican American Archives;
-Dr. Andrés Tijerina, author and Professor of History, Austin Community College;
-Dr. Frank de la Teja, author, and Chief Executive Officer, Texas State Historical Association;
-Dr. Carolina Castillo Crimm, author, Professor Emeritus, Sam Houston State University, and founder/owner of Historic Tours of Texas;
-Dr. Armando Alonzo, author and Associate Professor of History, Texas A&M University;
-Loretta Williams, Canary Islander Descendant, Member, Harris County Historical Commission, and DRT, San Jacinto Chapter.
Topics included the birth of Spanish Christian Missions in Texas, Tejano rancho/vaquero culture, arrival of Canary Islanders, Martín and Patricia de León, and my own presentation on Goliad native son, General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín, including La Bahia/Goliad’s influence on Spanish General Bernardo Gálvez, U.S. Independence War hero, and General José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara, first president of independent Texas (1813).
The question is, why are these types of forums important? There are two main reasons:
- First, it’s an honest reality, but historical structures built by Spanish Mexican pioneer settlers make up the foundation of Texas state historical tourism. Yet, site employees focus mostly on the post-1836 viewpoint. That is, the arrival of Anglo immigrants from the U.S.
– Thus, it’s a timely reminder that while the ancestors of most of today’s Anglo and Northern European-descent Texans were still in Europe in the 1500s-1700s, our Spanish-speaking ancestors were already living in Texas and the Southwest.
- Second, students of all backgrounds must be taught these facts in Texas classrooms. Indeed, there is much to learn regarding long-ignored details that helped make Texas what it is today.
Although space doesn’t allow me to cover the entire conference program, below is a summary.
Itis fitting to start with La Bahia/Goliad, since Goliad community leaders were kind enough to host the conference. Truly, Goliad is a tale of two cities:
(l) The first is the mainstream version that has a pronounced Anglo Saxon influence. It primarily focuses on Goliad’s importance as being the site of Texas revolution leader James Fannin’s execution. Embedded within mainstream Texas history, it stands on unsound ground. Why? Because Mr. Fannin and his U.S. Anglo immigrant companions raised arms against their adopted country of Mexico. As such, they were executed by Mexican soldiers defending their homeland from armed intruders.
(2) The second version involves La Bahia/Goliad’s pre-1836 existence. Established over 100 years before James Fannin, present-day Spanish Mexican-descent residents trace their family tree to the town’s founders. Founded as a mid-point between Presidio del Rio Grande and East Texas missions, the area helped lay the foundation of the ranching and cowboy industry in Texas.
To emphasize the town’s strong Spanish Mexican base, Alcalde (Mayor) Rafael Manchola and his cabildo (town council) renamed La Bahia in honor of national hero Father Miguel Hidalgo, rearranging the letters in “Hidalgo” without the H, spelling out Goliad. (By the way, in correctly pronouncing Goliad, you emphasize the “a”, not the “o”.)
- Alcalde Manchola became alarmed with the increasing number of Anglo trespassers in Goliad who were unwilling to live by Mexican laws. He is the second Spanish official to warn his superiors of his observations.
- The first was Lt. Colonel José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara, who sent the same forewarning to Mexico City while exiled in Natchitoches, Louisiana (1813-24).)
Another interesting conference topic was Spanish missions and presidios. Alas, even though both institutions are generally included in mainstream U.S. and Texas literature, coverage is not always kind.
In my view, that negative mainstream reporting is unfair. Aside from many brutality incidents toward Native Americans, the atrocities were committed by rogue individuals violating official policy. For the record, Spanish royal edicts had long decreed dignity and respect of indigenous people in America, imposing heavy penalties on those who violated those laws. That’s unlike English (and U.S.) officials who shunned Native Americans and refused to accept them as fellow human beings.
What about the Tejano ranching culture? The answer is that fifty years after the Spanish landing in Hispaniola, there were already working ranchos in central Mexico. Beginning in the early 1700s, pioneer families from central and Northern Mexico moved to Texas. Bringing their skills with them, they established the first ranch communities in the state.
By the late 1700s there were dozens of large self-sufficient ranchos, resembling oases dotting the Southwest. They were towns in every respect, offering travelers human contact, food, and shelter. If ranchos couldn’t make it, build it, or grow it, they didn’t need it. It was here where Vaqueros (cowboys) received their on-the-job-training.
As for Canary Islanders (Isleños), they played a key part in early Texas. Isleños joined the Bexareños in San Antonio to increase the pace of the region’s settlement. While four hundred volunteers were anticipated, only fifty-five arrived in San Antonio.
Things didn’t get off to a good start. That’s because as natives of the Canary Islands, the group was mostly composed of fishermen. Notwithstanding, Isleños soon acquired needed skills. In short, the two groups eventually inter-married and together contributed to the development of the area. Today, Bexareños and Isleños share many descendants living in Texas and throughout the U.S.
In summary, Goliad’s Tejano History Conference did not seek to rewrite Texas history. Rather, it aimed to fill-in the missing pieces; counter-balancing mainstream historians’ habit to begin Texas history in 1836. For that reason, many thanks to Goliad community organizers and Texas State Park Service personnel for allowing us to share our pre-1836 narrative.
State Park officials managing Goliad’s historic buildings are key beneficiaries. By being conference participants, they now have a more complete understanding of the human aspect of the historical sites they oversee. Hopefully, they will now share with tourists and local visitors alike, the additional information they gathered at the seminar.
However, before ending this article, a reminder that it’s not just a Eurocentric story. That is, our Spanish ancestors couldn’t have made it in America without our Native American forebears sharing their knowledge of the land’s flora, fauna, and providing the muscle-power to get things done. That’s why, in preserving early Texas history, we must stress that Missions Espíritu Santo, San Antonio de Valero, and others were built for them.
Sufficient to say that our dual Europe-America bloodlines comprise a blended history. Maybe that’s why David Webber in his book “The Spanish Frontier in North America” calls the arrival of the Spanish in America a multisided reality that most deservedly requires a Native American viewpoint. Thus, preserving both of our Spanish and Mexican lineages in Goliad, throughout Texas, and the Southwest is the right thing to do.
It’s who we are, as Sonia Sotomayor, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice clearly observes: “It’s important for all of us to appreciate where we come from and how that history has really shaped us in ways that we might not understand”.