Last May, My Uncle (Dr.) Rodolfo G. Sánchez, born and raised in San Ygnacio, celebrated his 100thBirthday.
Truly, our family is blessed because Tio Rodolfo is the latest of relatives who have reached that milestone, and they all call San Ygnacio their hometown.
Never heard of it? Below is a quick historical sketch.
Way before the fictional “Little House on the Prairie,” self-sustaining ranchos were not only real, but they dotted Northern Mexico’s landscape beginning in New Mexico in the 1600s. What is now South Texas, then part of Nuevo Santander (Tamaulipas) was settled in the mid-1700s. Across the Nueces River in Texas, settlements began in 1718, with San Antonio, gradually marching north to today’s Austin; east to La Bahia (Goliad) on the Gulf of Mexico, and on to Nacogdoches on the Texas-Louisiana border.
Such is the case of San Ygnacio’s Treviño-Uribe Rancho Home, built in 1830 by my great, great, great grandparents, Jesús Treviño and Viviana Gutiérrez de Lara Treviño. It was later fortified by my great, great grandparents, Blas Maria Uribe and Juliana Treviño Uribe.
Designated as an official Texas historical site, it’s easy access from the Rio Grande Valley and nearby Laredo area. The home has been restored and is now a museum. (For more information and hours of operation, visit the online River Pierce Foundation Home and Face Book Pages.)
As I often mention to others, when talking about early South Texas, family is history and history is family. What I mean by that is that since mainstream Texas history ignores the Spanish Mexican roots of this great place we call Texas, our ancestors preserved their history through oral rendering. In fact, that’s how I learned early Texas history.
In effect, San Ygnacio grew around the stone homestead affectionately called The Fort, because it was here that townspeople gathered in times of trouble. Many historical buildings nearby have been restored and some of my cousins continue to occupy them as their primary homes.
San Ygnacio, population 700, is located about 30 miles south of Laredo. Its roots lead to nearby Dolores (est. 1750), a critical lower Rio Grande stopping point onEl Camino Realbetween Monclova, Coahuila and San Antonio, La Bahia (Goliad), and beyond. Notably, Dolores was settled 26 years before the U.S. wascreated.
It’s hard to imagine, but no European-descent communities existed on this side of the river west between Dolores/Laredo and El Paso. Our ancestors were true trailblazing pioneers. Perhaps the following incident will help explain how my uncle acquired a strong sentiment for his heritage early in his life.
ImagineSan Ygnacio in the 1920s. As he had done many times, young Rodolfo is taking a leisurely walk near his home. He suddenly stops, spotting a stranger through the brush.
The man, who turned out to be a border patrol agent, was yelling at him in English, a language he didn’t yet understand. Interpreting the stranger’s angry voice as a threat, Rodolfo executed his own ‘stranger danger” strategy — he ran home to safety.
My uncle has never forgotten that experience, and he shared it with me a few years ago. In my view, the incident has a larger meaning, symbolizing the meeting of two diverse cultures in San Ygnacio.
In short, it was a confrontation between New Spain’s pre-1848 Spanish Mexican South Texas versus post-1848 Texas mainstream Anglicized society whose origins lead to New England on the east coast. In considering that culture clash, we must remember that old San Ygnacio was a place where those around you were family, people of faith, and that you knew well. Besides, they only spoke Spanish.
Beginning in 1848, however, Spanish Mexican residents were expected to fully adopt the new Anglo culture, and to discard their Spanish Mexican heritage, including the speaking of Spanish.
Those were conditions that young Rodolfo Sánchez and his family were unwilling to accept. That doesn’t mean that my uncle rejected the new system. Rather, he adapted by fusing the two together. He was able to educate himself and lead a very rewarding professional career, while protecting and preserving his culture.
Equally important, Uncle Rodolfo served his country in World War II, as did his brothers. He joined the U.S. Army in 1941, completingbasic training at Fort Wolters, Texas, later transferring toFort Bragg, North Carolina. There, he trained in specialized all-terrain landing maneuvers that lasted until early December 1941.
Pfc Rodolfo Sánchez and his fellow soldiers expected to return home shortly. Alas, the events ofDecember 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor,“a day that will live in infamy”(in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s words) changed everything.
Soon afterwards, his unit was back in training exercises preparing for overseas duty. Though, while his unit did depart for North Africa, Uncle Rodolfo was selected for a special duty assignment to a vital U.S. refueling base in the South Atlantic.
In 1944, Sergeant Sánchez, now a member of the Army Air Corps, was chosen for another special duty assignment. This time, his bilingual abilities proved to be valuable skills in supporting the U.S. key objective of building goodwill in Central and South American countries.
Assigned first to Panama and then to Costa Rica, his job was to train police and military forces of Spanish-speaking countries in weapons training and tactics. He also served as the principal interpreter for the Chief of the Military Mission in Costa Rica. Following his discharge after the war, he chose to stay in Costa Rica, got married, and started a family. Eventually, he returned to the place where it all began, his beloved San Ygnacio.
Another San Ygnacio native, Alfredo A. Salinas, paid the supreme sacrifice for his country. As many young men his age, Alfredo enlisted in the U.S. Navy when he received the call to duty. Significantly, he was wounded, recovered, and continued performing his duties aboard the USS Indianapolis. For readers who are unfamiliar with this ship’s heroic story, the short summary below is provided.
The USS Indianapolis was a Navy heavy cruiser, commissioned in 1931. It was part of the Fifth Fleet in the Pacific. In 1945, the Indianapolis undertook a top secret mission to Tinian Island in the Northern Mariana Island group. Their cargo consisted of vital parts of Little Boy, the first U.S. atomic bomb ever used in combat.
After successfully delivering its shipment, the Indianapolis was en route to The Philippines, when it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. Sinking rapidly, 300 of its 1,195 crewmembers went down with the ship. The remaining 890, Sailor Salinas among them, were stranded in the open seas. They suffered from dehydration, exposure, salt-poisoning, and shark attacks.
After four days of floating in those desperate conditions, a Navy plane spotted the crewmen.There were only 316 survivors. Sadly, according to a fellow crewmember who survived the ordeal, Seaman Salinas had succumbed the day before.
In summary, San Ygnacio has never forgotten the strong sense of patriotism shown by its homegrown military members. Through the generosity of Oswaldo and Juanita G. Ramírez, memorials dedicated to veterans of WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War, Purple Heart Recipients, and U.S. Navy Sailor Alfredo Salinas are prominently placed in San Ygnacio’s Blas Maria Uribe Plaza.
Most of all, readers must realize that San Ygnacio’s steadfast contributions in support of the U.S. run deep because they also lead to Querétaro in Central Mexico. During the 1773-83 U.S. War of Independence,Querétanosand people across Mexico donated ample blood and treasure to help the young U.S. gain independence from England.
Clearly, San Ygnacio’s patriotic credentials undeniably prove why its bilingual U.S. citizens are indeed privileged to be able to sayFeliz cuatro de Julioand Happy July Fourth.