In his book, “Colonial Spanish Texas and Other Essays,” Dr. Lino Garcia, Jr., professor emeritus, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, records a fact typically avoided in conventional Texas history writing.
That is, Lorenzo de Zavala designed the Republic of Texas flag. Attesting to its staying power, his creation continues today as the Texas state flag. Said another way, Mexican-born de Zavala is the one who put the star on the Texas Lone Star Flag.
Before proceeding, the following principal points are provided:
- Mainstream Texas history writers have long pushed the idea that Mexico considers Lorenzo de Zavala a traitor foår supporting the 1836 Anglo immigrant-led insurgency in Texas. In making that unfair claim, they fail to recognize the significant political differences between colonial New Spain and the independent Republic of Mexico.
- First, it was New Spain officials who considered Lorenzo de Zavala a rebellious revolutionist; at one time imprisoning him for his liberal views.
- Incredibly, those who champion the English colonies’ struggle for independence from England don’t credit New Spain’s Spanish Mexican residents for doing the same thing – ending colonial European rule in America.
- Second, mainstream Texas historians have helped build the myth that the Anglos’ 1836 insurrection was unique and the only instance of civil rebellion. Actually, it was one of several, because Mexico was deep in civil war conflict (centralists vs. federalists).
- Having successfully defeated a revolt in Zacatecas, President Santa Anna marched to Texas, exercising his natural right as head of state to protect Mexico from foreign armed invaders.
- Arriving in San Antonio, he defeated armed Anglo insurgent immigrants from the U.S. who had commandeered and exploited the on-going liberty revolt Tejanos had initiated in 1810-1813.
- Third, de Zavala’s key role in the resistance movement that won Mexico’s independence overwhelmingly outshines his involvement in 1836 Texas. Deservedly, he has a place in Mexico’s honor roll of independence heroes, whose collective efforts put an end to colonial Spanish rule in 1821.
Manuel Lorenzo Justiniano de Zavala Sánchez was born in 1788 near Mérida, Yucatán to creole parents (Spanish people born in America). He received his formal education at the Seminario Conciliar de San Ildefonso in Mérida.
More than likely as a student, he explored the wide spectrum of world affairs. He particularly took interest in the disparity of freedom and how governments granted it.
For example, while touring the U.S., he observed that although the U.S. boasted of being a country of free people, it enslaved African-descent human beings. For the record, his views matched those of most creoles, mestizos, Native Americans, and African-descent people living under Spain’s yoke of intolerant colonialism. Indeed, that’s why Mexico became the first country in America to abolish slavery in 1829.
After graduation, de Zavala sharpened his deep sense of moral obligation and enlightened ideas. In due course, his passion increased when he put his thoughts into action, founding a newspaper advocating universal democratic ideals.
As mentioned above, Spanish officials arrested and imprisoned de Zavala for his progressive writings. While in jail, he furthered his education by studying languages and medicine. After his release, he entered the political arena and was elected to a local government office.
Soon after, he climbed the ladder of success to become the governor of Yucatán. After Mexico’s 1821 independence, de Zavala continued to fill high-level positions, including Mexico’s ambassador to France and president of the congress. He led approval of Mexico’s 1824 Constitution.
Once, he had counted President Santa Anna as a close friend, but later ended their friendship, due to Santa Anna’s growing authoritarian ambitions. He resigned from his government position and lived in exile in Europe. Later he toured the U.S., and finally moved to Mexico’s most northeastern Provincia de Texas, where he owned land.
Lorenzo de Zavala joined the 1836 rebellion in Texas because he envisioned a Texas where both its Spanish-speaking native Mexican inhabitants and U.S. Anglo immigrants would live in peace and harmony. By the way, Mexican-descent Tejanos supporting Sam Houston had those same sentiments.
Note: In covering Tejanos’ involvement in the 1836 Anglo revolt, mainstream Texas historians and the mandated Texas classroom curriculum ignore the following important detail:
- Seceding from Mexico was never de Zavala’s goal (nor of other Tejano leaders), preferring only to gain economic autonomy for the Texas province.
Internationally recognized as a superb leader, de Zavala offered his diplomatic skills in exchange for dignity and respect toward his fellow Mexican people in Texas. Elected as Texas’ first vice-president on March 16, 1836, the future looked bright for Spanish-speaking Texans.
However, what had started as a collaborative movement became a wholesale betrayal by the Anglo immigrants who displayed open hostility toward their former Tejano allies.
Ominously, only seven months after taking office, Lorenzo de Zavala resigned as vice-president on October 17, 1836 (supposedly due to poor health) and returned home. Though, disappointment probably accelerated his departure. That is, he may have realized that Anglos had no intention of fulfilling his dream of coexistence.
Tragically, while boating on a local river, his canoe capsized. He got chilled in the freezing water, resulting in pneumonia. He died on November 15, 1836, at age forty-eight.
Turning de Zavala’s candle of hope into a blow torch, Anglos began burning-off the true foundation of Texas, seeking to remove its pre-1836 history.
Parts of Spanish Mexican institutions that Anglos liked, they kept. These include land management, ranching, law enforcement, legal, women’s property rights, education, etc. Yet, these features are rarely attributed to the Spanish-speaking founders of this great place we call Texas.
Nearing the 20th century, de Zavala’s partnership plan continued to fade. Explicitly, city leaders resumed their attempt to rebuild San Antonio in their Manifest Destiny image, setting out to erase the town’s Spanish Mexican footprint. A prime example is the demolishing of Presidio San Antonio de Béxar (Álamo), and paving over Mission San Antonio de Valero’s camposanto (cemetery). The presidio grounds (1836 battleground site) were then sold to commercial developers.
In 1908, Adina de Zavala stopped the wrecking ball’s momentum by channeling her grandfather’s pursuit to preserve the Spanish Mexican roots of Texas. Quite heroically, she led the effort to protect the remaining historical buildings scheduled for demolition, such as the Convento and Misión San Antonio de Valero. In short, we have Adina to thank for saving the historical structures we see today at Álamo Plaza.
Noticeably, her grandfather Lorenzo had (at least initially) worked with amiable Anglos. In comparison, Adina faced blatant antipathy in her efforts to conserve San Antonio’s pre-1836 Spanish Mexican heritage.
The stand-off continues today between two camps – (l) those who only want to remember the myth-based John Wayne movie (The Álamo), and (2) Tejanas/Tejanos who advocate the seamless history of this great place we call Texas.
Lastly, mainstream historians who have spent so much energy in trying to divorce Texas from its Spanish-Mexican origins should realize that theirs is an exercise in futility. In the words of Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador: “Mexico and the U.S. are bound not only because of the common border, but by a shared culture and history.”