Last year, San Antonio celebrated its 300th Birthday anniversary.
It was an occasion observed throughout the year, with abundant events showcasing the city’s initial 1718 Bexareños founding and soon after, the arrival of Canary Islanders (Isleños) in 1731.
Clearly, San Antonio’s 300-year-old taproot is the source of the Texas history family tree.
As an early Texas history enthusiast, I was blessed to have been asked to participate. By the same token, I couldn’t help but notice that some exhibitions appeared to veer-off the birthday script by including post-1836 Texas history. In my view, they represent covert attempts to dilute the celebration’s real significance – San Antonio’s evident Spanish Mexican origins.
Despite firm foundation facts, some folks are unwilling to accept the true beginnings of this great place we call Texas. Behavioral humorists call it a “Don’t confuse me with the facts; my mind’s made up” attitude.
In my view, people who are so predisposed have been conditioned by bias on the part of mainstream historians and Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) to exclusively present Texas history with a New England emphasis. Why? Most probably because including the Spanish Mexican roots of our state would dismantle their 1836 Battle of the Álamo model that is largely based on an embellished movie myth-based Anglicized rendering of Texas history.
Author Dan Brown doesn’t mince his words: “History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated and the winner writes the history books; books that glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe.”
Not surprisingly, generations of Spanish Mexican-descent Texans have endured and survived under that superior-subordinate system. Rooted in Anglo-Saxon colonialism intolerance, it was first established by the U.S. in 1848 when it absorbed Mexico’s northern territory. Persecuted and historically marginalized since then, the descendants of the region’s residents (and Native Americans) are made to feel as strangers in their own homeland.
Equally problematic is how official Texas history is divided into separate stand-alone segments: (a) indigenous period, (b) Spanish Colonial/Mexican Republic, and (c) Texas Republic/U.S. statehood eras.
Quite intentionally (as Dan Brown proposes), mainstream historians emphasize only the last category (post-1836 Texas history) and treat the first two compartments as “foreign” history. Following their lead, the Texas SBOE mandates the same approach in the classroom. It’s unfair for two reasons.
- One, Mexican-descent Texans are the common denominator in each of the three Texas history periods. Thus, they must no longer be denied learning the seamless history of our state.
- Two, 40 percent of the Texas population is of Mexican-descent and they’re poised to soon regain majority status in the state.
What’s the reason for that exclusive mindset, found most prevalent in Anglo Saxon and Northern European-descent citizens? The answer is lack of early Texas history knowledge. Thus, what follows is a short “read and heed” historical primer.
- As to settlements, San Antonio takes the lead (1718), as validated by its 300thbirthday tribute. Quickly came Los Adaes (Nacogdoches)) in the east, and La Bahia (Goliad).
– Also included are José de Escandón’s Villas del Norte on both banks of the Rio Grande, though at the time, the lower Rio Grande was within Nuevo Santander (Tamaulipas).
- San Antonio became a reality when the Spanish decided to settle the east Texas region from Coahuila’s Presidio San Juan Bautista. As such, the viceroy approved the establishment of a mid-point site. Thus, on May 1, 1718, Captain Martín de Alarcón, Texas governor, and Father Antonio Olivares broke ground for the new community.
– Shortly, Father Olivares built Mission San Antonio de Valero, and Presidio San Antonio de Béxar.
(Notes: (1) The presidio was later nicknamed el Álamo by local Bexareños because that’s where early 1800s soldiers from Álamo de Parras, Coahuila and families were stationed. (2) The Álamo no longer exists. Demolished by city leaders in the early 1900s, the property was rezoned for commercial development; forever erasing the 1836 battle site. Likewise, the nearby mission camposanto (graveyard) now lies under concrete and asphalt.
- In 1721, a large group headed by Marquis de Aguayo crossed the Rio Grande, bringing cattle, sheep, and goats into Texas. This first cattle drive began the ranching industry and vaquero (cowboy) way-of-life in Texas.
- In 1722, the Spanish Governors Palace was built. Although not as imposing as palaces in Europe, the structure well served as the Texas provincial government seat throughout the 18thto early 19thcentury. San Antonio became a villa in 1731 when 55 Canary Islanders (Isleños) arrived to augment the original founding families of Bexareños.
- Yes, Texas independence did begin in San Antonio, but much earlier than 1836.
- Inspired by Padre Hidalgo’s 1810 “Grito” freedom passion in Mexico, the first two Texas liberty movements began in San Antonio.
- First, retired Captain Juan Bautista de las Casas and a group of soldiers took over Presidio San Antonio de Béxar in 1811, arrested the Spanish Governor, and declared Texas independence. Unfortunately, the revolt was short-lived; Las Casas was captured and turned over to Spanish authorities. He was executed shortly thereafter.
- A second attempt involves Lt. Colonel José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara. As Las Casas, he was from Nuevo Santander, a hotbed of independence fervor. Gutiérrez de Lara organized Mexico’s Army of the North (First Texas Army) in Natchitoches, Louisiana with President James Madison’s approval.
- Colonel Gutiérrez de Lara then crossed into Texas and led the Tejano Army (Tejanos, Native Americans, and Anglos) to five victories against the Spanish Army. Gutiérrez de Lara declared Texas Independence on April 6, 1813, becoming the first president of independent Texas.
So as not to threaten Sam Houston’s revolt, mainstream Texas historians dismissively call José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara’s Texas independence effort an “expedition.” Yet, Gutiérrez de Lara has the credentials to prove that his was a successful revolution in 1813: (l) Texas’ first Declaration of Independence, and (2) the first Texas Constitution.
In summary, San Antonio’s founding origins helped Texas become what it is today. Still, we, who dedicate ourselves to present a fair and balanced Texas history, recognize that it’s an uphill struggle. Nonetheless, the inspiring Tejano Monument reminds Austin residents and tourists alike of the legitimacy of Texas’ Spanish Mexican heritage “on this side of the border.”
At a time in our country’s history that is witnessing renewed bigotry toward Mexico and Mexican-descent people, it’s quite fitting that the Tejano Monument is located in Austin, a city named after Stephen F. Austin. Ironically, our Spanish Mexican ancestors were the ones who invited Austin and the first Anglo Saxon-descent people to immigrate to Mexico from the U.S.
Clearly, the Texas SBOE can either continue their 1836 deception, or agree to finally add the first chapters of Texas history in a seamless manner to school classroom instruction during the next scheduled curriculum review in 2020. It’s the right thing to do for all the right reasons.
In the words of author historian Herbert E. Bolton, “Throughout these Hispanic regions now in Anglo-American hands, Spanish architecture is still conspicuous – from Georgia to San Francisco…From the Spaniard, the American cowboy inherited his trade, his horse, his outfit, his vocabulary, and his methods.—From Sacramento to St. Augustine, nearly everybody holds their land by a title going back to Mexico or Madrid.”
The bottom line? Validated by Mr. Bolton’s sage advice, there is a reason why everything historically old in Texas and the Southwest is in Spanish.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows a bust of Father Antonio Olivares.