Why Everything Historically Old in Texas (& the Southwest) is in Spanish
“That Spaniards came to the New World simply to plunder, whereas Englishmen and Frenchmen came to settle and to engage in honest trade is a popular, but false statement.” (Historian David J. Weber).
“It is time to realize that there will not be found any more cruelty, tyranny, and superstition in the résumé in past Spanish history than in the corresponding résumé of Anglo-Norman history.” (Poet Walt Whitman).
“As for those in power, they are so anxious to establish the myth of infallibility, that they do the utmost to ignore truth.” (Poet Boris Pasternak).
“History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books – books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe.” (Historian Dan Brown).
Indeed, such sentiments led me to pursue a post-retirement career as an early Texas history writer. That is, I wanted to be part of the Tejano/Tejana effort to reconnect Anglicized mainstream Texas history with its founding Spanish Mexican chapters.
Equally important, I needed to help others understand that learning about Republic of Mexico (New Spain) history in the Southwest is just as valuable as that of New England. Most of all, I wanted to remind folks that there’s no Plymouth Rock off the Texas coast.
Luckily, I was able to do just that. What follows summarizes common themes in over 500 historical articles I’ve written and contributed to the cause. Clearly, they prove our birthright on this side of the border, ensuring that our pre-1836 ancestral Texas roots will live on.
Ironically, few Anglo Texans today know that it was the welcoming Spanish Mexican spirit (Amistad and Alegría in Spanish) that attracted Stephen F. Austin and Anglo immigrants (Old 300). Unhappy in the U.S., they freely accepted Mexico’s invitation to immigrate to Texas and become Mexican citizens. To paraphrase Mr. Austin’s own words, “Mexico is the most generous country in the world toward immigrants”.
Nonetheless, our ancestors warmly received and gave the Anglos their first land grants. In return, the immigrants agreed to obey Mexico’s laws, and co-exist with and help Mexican families settle north and northeast Texas.
That much is documented history and cannot be denied. Alas, by deliberately ignoring these details, the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) has incredibly cut-off the legs of Texas history by mandating a post-1836 Anglo narrative. (Reference Dan Brown’s words, above.)
Albeit, the issue of slavery soon arose. Mexico had abolished slavery in 1829 (the first country in America to do so), requiring the U.S. immigrants to free their slaves. The uncooperative Anglos refused and declared independence, with ample help from U.S. agents.
(Note: They had no natural or legal right to declare independence in 1836, since none of them were native-born Mexican citizens. Putting it bluntly, the Álamo Presidio wasn’t theirs to defend. Besides, in my view only two things clearly emerged from their invasive excursion in Mexico.
(1) The U.S. used the Anglo immigrants as an initial cadre to invade Mexico’s Texas. Sadly, much more land aggression against Mexico followed after the U.S.-Mexico War (1846-48).
(2) There’s no Republic of Texas and Texas is not independent. In fact, independence didn’t last long. After only nine years, the Anglos traded their independence to join the U.S. as a slave state.)
Soon, Anglos began to write Texas history in their own image, totally ignoring the existence of Tejanos/Tejanas who invited them here in the first place. Though they try hard to continue their Anglophile attitude, the fact is that a Mexican (Lorenzo de Zavala) put the star on the Texas Lone Star flag. Sweet revenge.
Regrettably, the colonial-style mainstream mentality lasted until the 1960s. For instance, when I was growing up, students were punished for speaking Spanish in school grounds. As well, teachers focused solely on Anglo Texas and New England history.
When asked about our Spanish Mexican founders, teachers typically ridiculed Mexican-descent students (including me). Sadly, the prejudice continued in high school/university courses, with only a very few courageous professors daring to give us the facts.
Notwithstanding the uphill struggle, we’ve made progress. For instance, the Tejano Monument in Austin, Texas was unveiled in 2012. Once considered an impossible dream, this first memorial honoring Texas’ pioneer Spanish Mexican founding families was finally approved.
Unquestionably, our ancestors perfected the vaquero (cowboy) persona, rodeo, and ranching throughout Texas. (Including many state institutions we depend on today.) With skills they brought with them from central and northern Mexico, they created robust self-sustaining ranchos, villas, and pueblos deep in the heart of Texas.
Nonetheless, Anglos cancelled (re-labeled) our authentic Spanish Mexican civilization as “western” (as in western movies, western wear, Old West, Wild West, etc. They then encapsulated their take-over in the movie-based phrase, “How the west was won”.
Yet, hidden just behind the thin façade, our ancestors’ footprints are still there. Consider the popular rodeo, an unmistakable reenactment of Spanish Mexican traditions. To demonstrate, let’s examine the terms used at this event (and in ranching).
For example, cowboy, buckaroo (vaquero), dolly welter (dale vuelta), chaps (chaparreras), cinch (cincha), lasso (lazo), lariat (la riata), mustang (mesteño), ten gallon hat (sombrero galoneado), and many more. Even the word “rodeo” itself is an English-pronounced version of the Spanish word “rodeo”. In my view, it’s a classic case of cultural appropriation.
Although today a segment of U.S. society disparages the term “diversity”, the U.S. owes much of its existence to diversity. Consider the following facts:
First, the U.S. War of Independence against England wouldn’t have succeeded without Spain’s and especially New Spain’s (Mexico) vital contributions.
Second, our system of government wasn’t conceived in England or northern Europe. It’s a Native American Iroquois contribution, including key tenets of our Constitution.
Third, plenty of U.S. food, music, literature, dance, etc., derive from racial/ethnic cultures; and
Fourth, every time Anglo Nordic Texans put on their Sombrero Galoneado and Cowboy Boots, they are experiencing traditions with unmistakable Spanish Mexican beginnings.
Before continuing, I thank God for granting me the skill to write English to help preserve our Spanish Mexican pre-1836 Texas history. For a child who grew up with English-as-a-second language (ESL) in Laredo’s “El Barrio Azteca”, it’s a gift beyond words. I am truly blessed.
To be sure, a particular remark many years ago was a great motivator. It came from a most respected Tejano historian. After listening to one of my presentations, he said “Joe, you present your material as we professors wish we could teach it, but we’re not allowed to.”
Three other comments stand out:
1. After one of my presentations in Harlingen, a gentleman from Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico told me in Spanish: “Señor López, vine preparado a criticar su presentación, pero después de haberle oído hablar, no es necesario.” (I came here prepared to criticize your presentation. However, after hearing you speak, there’s no need.)
2. A teacher: “Mr. López, I am a Texas history teacher and a history major. I’m sorry to say that I never heard any of this in school or in my college Texas history courses.” (Often repeated by other teachers.)
3. After speaking to a chapter of the Sons of the Republic of Texas, an elderly gentleman approached me afterwards. He said, “Mr. López, even as a young child, I always wondered why Sam Houston had it so easy. After listening to your presentation, I now know why. Thank you.”
– Based on his sincere demeanor and friendly handshake, he agreed that Sam Houston had taken over a Tejano-initiated Texas independence work-in-progress.
– In my view, his reaction proved that even some Texans who’ve been raised on the strict diet of Anglo-slanted Texas history are willing to learn the real beginning of the Texas story.
· Sincere gratitude to Mr. Steve Taylor, editor, Rio Grande Valley International News Service. As soon as Steve read my first article, he encouraged me to continue writing. Frankly, I wouldn’t have begun my writing career without his vital support. Credit is also due to printed media that kindly published my work, such as the San Antonio Express-News, and former print newspaper LareDos (Meg Guerra, editor/publisher).
· My heartfelt appreciation to early Texas history giants (most especially, Dr. Lino Garcia, Jr., Dr. Andrés Tijerina, Dr. Carolina Castillo Crimm, and Robert H. Thonhoff). Not only did I greatly admire them before and after I began to write, but am honored to call them good friends.
· As an eighth-generation Texan, I say to first-generation Mexican-descent Texans (many whose families were driven south by brutal Anglo vigilantes), welcome to the land of your ancestors.
· By the same token, if you are a Texan of Mexican-descent, remember that we have regained our majority group status in Texas and our numbers are growing. If you’ve been hesitant to focus on your heritage on this side of the border, now is the time to stand tall and do it. You have every right to do so.
· Especially today, we can’t let anyone cancel our founding Texas ancestors’ identity. The reason? Because “Texas history without Tejanas and Tejanos is like a book with no beginning”. Said another way, “Aquí todavía estamos, y no nos vamos” (Here we still are, and we’re not leaving).
In summary, I am humbled beyond words. Becoming a newspaper columnist is an experience that I never envisioned, gave it my best, and thoroughly enjoyed.
Lastly, I hope I have fulfilled author Anton Chekov’s sage words, “The task of a writer is not to solve the problem, but to state the problem correctly”.
Editor’s Note: The above column was penned by author and historian José Antonio “Joe” López. López was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and is a USAF Veteran. He now lives in Universal City, Texas. He is the author of several books dedicated to Spanish Mexican people and events in U.S. history that are mostly overlooked in mainstream history books. His latest book is “Preserving Early Texas History (Essays of an Eighth-Generation South Texan), Volume 3”. It is available through Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and online bookstores.
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