In sharing pre-1836 history of Texas with others, there’s one particular feature that surprises many folks.
That is, the fact that Texas was already an organized state when the first Anglo immigrants from the U.S. began arriving in Mexico in the 1820s.
That fact alone proves that Stephen F. Austin cannot be the “Father of Texas,” since Texas was over 130 years old when he immigrated to Mexico!
Indeed, mainstream history books perpetuate skepticism of our state’s true origins, because they contain an incomplete picture of Texas history. That is, Anglo Saxon immigrants from the U.S. did not create Texas, but rather initially crossed over as immigrants.
Next, the U.S. absorbed it in 1845-48. Since then, conventional historians have tried to separate Texas from its Mexican birthright. The intentional scheme is insulting to its true founders and continues to this day.
In the words of historian David J. Weber, “Hispanophobia with its particularly vitriolic anti-Mexican variant, also served as a convenient way to keep Mexicans “in their place.” Thus, Anglo Americans repudiated the Spanish past … and replaced it with their own institutions and culture.”
Historian Weber continues: “Hispanophobia has lasted longer in Texas than in any other Spanish province. Well into the 20th century, the prejudice retarded the serious study of the state’s lengthy Spanish heritage, leaving the field open to distortion and caricature.”
In fairness, prudent historians have tried to set the record straight. Perhaps no one has ever said it better than Walt Whitman when he wrote in 1883:
“We Americans have yet to really learn our own antecedents…Thus far, impress’d by New England writers and schoolmasters, we tacitly abandon ourselves to the notion that our United States have been fashion’d from the British Islands only … which is a very great mistake.”
So it is with the manner that the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) wields its rigid mandated curricula program. In their way of thinking, if it doesn’t fit the Austin and Sam Houston models, it’s left out of classroom lessons. Hopefully, one day soon the SBOE will heed Walt Whitman’s wisdom and embrace Texas’ pre-1836 history. What’s at stake?
The answer is that students will finally learn long-ignored Texas facts. In reality, Texas was the most northeasterly member of a family of New Spain sister states commonly called Las Provincias Internas. It’s important for readers to know this: Texas and its well-established family of provinces (states) welcomed Mr. Austin and his 300 Anglo families who immigrated to Mexico to be “Mexicans.” While borders may have changed, some of the provinces have survived to the present day as Mexican and U.S. states. Below are brief summaries of each:
New Mexico: As Texas’ big sister, recorded knowledge of the territory can be traced to Francisco Vasquez de Coronado’s 1540-42 visit. From New Mexico, the first Europeans, not only explored the area, but also travelled through upper Texas and Kansas. By the way, West Texas (i.e., El Paso) was originally part of New Mexico. Also, here is where Jumano Native Americans requested that Santa Fe missionaries establish missions in their Texas villages.
Road connections between Texas and New Mexico began on October 4, 1786, when Pedro Vial and Cristobal de los Santos departed San Antonio, reaching Santa Fe on May 26, 1787.
As to the origins of the name, Francisco de Ibarra, an early Spanish explorer, noticed a distinct difference in flora and fauna. Thus, he informally recorded its name as “un Nuevo México” in his logbook. Then, in 1598, Juan de Oñate formally accepted the name when he became the first Governor of Nuevo México. Please note that the territory of el Reino del Nuevo México at that time encompassed most of what we know today as the Southwest.
Sonora: There are several accounts regarding its first European settlements. For example, locals believe that the origins of a village in Sonora can be traced to Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca in 1530. The first Spanish missionaries arrived in 1614. Italian Jesuit priest, Eusebio Kino, established a number of missions in the region, beginning in 1687. Sonora was the point of departure for the settlement of points north, such as Arizona.
Coahuila: Bordering Texas along the Rio Grande, Minas de la Trinidad was established in 1577. In the same year, Alberto del Canto established Saltillo, its capital. Coahuila shares a close kinship to Texas because as in New Mexico’s case, part of West Texas was once within the state of Coahuila. Additionally, after Mexican independence, the two states were combined as Coahuila y Texas. Many early Texas pioneers came from Coahuila.
California: Although settled for the most part in the 1700s, California’s story starts in 1533. Later, Spanish navigator explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo entered San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542. Sebastián Vizcaino followed, with the Portolá Expedition of 1769-70, and founded what we now know as California. The name “California” was first recorded in 1562, with several versions as to the word’s origin. The most popular of these is “Califia” referring to a mythical land.
Nuevo León: After initial endeavors by Alberto del Canto and Luis de Carvajal, Diego de Montemayor is credited with permanently settling pioneer settlers in Nuevo León in 1596. Significantly, all three attempts were initiated by Sephardic Jewish Spaniards. As with Coahuila, many early Texas settlers originate in this region (Monterrey and points in between).
Nueva Vizcaya: Today, this sister province of Texas is known as the states of Chihuahua and Durango. Antonio Deza y Ulloa is credited with the establishment of Chihuahua City in 1709, but Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca and his shipwreck companions were the first Europeans to set foot in the territory. Predating New Mexico, Nueva Vizcaya was settled in 1554, and served as the home base for explorers venturing farther north. Missionaries began arriving in 1569.
Nuevo Santander: Texas’ youngest sister, this last province was set up in northern Mexico by Count José de Escandón in 1747. (Please note that South Texas was part of Nuevo Santander (Tamaulipas) until 1848.) Count Escandón eventually settled over twenty Villas del Norte. Several of them straddle both banks (ambos lados) of the Lower Rio Grande.
Note: All of the aforementioned states are within a cultural region known as AridoAmerica, linking Native Americans living on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border for thousands of years. It is still home to their descendants. Sadly, without political voice (power), the way of life of southwest pre-Columbian Native American cultures is in danger. They are innocent victims of the so-called border fence that will greatly reduce their desert homeland; now a mere fraction of the land of their ancestors.
In summary, the U.S. took Texas from its natural family of sister states (provincias internas) in 1848 and has tried since then to conceal its true beginnings. Thus, this article seeks only to re-connect Texas with its Spanish-speaking family tree. As an eighth-generation Texan, I’m proud of the fact that it gives today’s Mexican-descent students deserved ownership of Texas history — a reality denied to their elders who have long been treated as foreigners in their Texas homeland.
Although little of early Texas history is taught in the classroom, Texas’ strong Spanish Mexican foundation lineage is organic and undeniable (as Historian Weber reminds us above). It’s not by accident that the U.S. is now the second largest Spanish-speaking country in the world.
We must no longer let political borders (and Texas SBOE bias) dictate a flawed curricula, especially now that Spanish-surnamed Texans are close to reclaiming majority group status. In the words of Pearl S. Buck, “If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.”