Longtime Rio Grande Guardian columnist José Antonio López is an early (pre-1836) Texas historian and author of five books. He is also a public speaker who focuses on vital South Texas historical details that are habitually ignored in mainstream Texas history.
Born and raised in Laredo, Texas, López is a U.S.A.F. veteran who served a 38-year career in military uniform and federal service (1962-2000). Upon retirement he held a senior civilian management position at the U.S. Air Education and Training Command (AETC), at Randolph AFB, Texas.
After a very rewarding career, he never expected to become an early Texas history writer, an occupation that he has fully enjoyed for the last ten years.
López is married to the former Cordelia Jean “Cordy” Dancause of Laredo, and they reside in Universal City, Texas. A Martin High School graduate, Class of 1962, he was recently inducted as a Tiger Legends member; a select group that recognizes accomplished MHS graduates. He has college degrees from Laredo Jr. College and Southwest Texas State University (SWTSU), San Marcos, Texas. He also earned a Master’s Degree in Education from SWTSU (now Texas State University).
López is a direct descendant of Don Javier Uribe and Doña Apolinaria Bermúdez de Uribe, one of the earliest families that settled in what is now South Texas in 1750. Thus, for as long as he can remember, his mother (Maria de la Luz Sánchez Uribe de López) taught him and his siblings about their Spanish Mexican ancestors, who were part of José de Escandón’s Villas del Norte, established in 1749-1755.
His mother took particular interest in describing her intrepid ancestors, especially the heroic achievements of José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara, the first president of Independent Texas, and his wife, Maria Josefa Uribe de Gutiérrez de Lara, the original first lady of Texas. The reason she did so is that she knew they weren’t getting this information in the classroom. She wanted to ensure that her children knew who they were and where they came from.
Perhaps the following anecdote that López shared with the Rio Grande Guardian explains his mother’s passion to preserve her family roots:
“When I was in third grade, our teacher assigned us a project due the next day. We were to bring a picture of a cowboy and present a short report in front of the class. When I got home, I told my mother about my homework. While listening to me describe my assignment, she took out our photo album, handed me a picture of my great, great grandfather, Blas Maria Uribe, and suggested a short summary of what I should say in class.
“As soon as I showed my teacher the picture, she laughed and said, ‘This is not what I asked you for. I meant a real cowboy. You know, like Roy Rogers or Gene Autry.’ I was devastated and after school I told mom what had happened. Mother didn’t say a word.
“The next day, she escorted me to school and asked my teacher if she could talk to her. While I couldn’t hear what Mother said, but I’m sure the teacher got an earful of early South Texas history. Afterwards, I was allowed to deliver my class report.
“I should mention that as a recent arrival in Laredo, my teacher was unfamiliar with South Texas ranching history. Years later, I asked Mother how she had handled it. She said she simply reminded her that movie star actors weren’t “real” cowboys. She did recall that all my teacher kept repeating was ‘I had no idea.’”
Indeed, because of their tendency to begin Texas history in 1836, Anglicized mainstream society finds it difficult to accept the Spanish Mexican foundation of our state. That’s a challenge López gladly accepts by objectively presenting facts to counter the wrong viewpoint often expressed in the media. Far from rewriting history, he describes what he does as filling in the missing pieces of the Texas history puzzle.
López further believes that if only the U.S. general public learned about and accepted the Spanish Mexican roots of this great place we call Texas, much of today’s confusion and misjudging of Spanish-speaking people originating in the Southwest would disappear.
As such, he frequently reminds everyone that Texas history without Tejanas and Tejanos is like refusing to read the first chapters of a book. Said another way, pre-1836 Texas history explains why everything old in Texas and the Southwest is named in Spanish.
López’s Rio Grande Guardian articles have been re-published by print newspapers such as the San Antonio Express-News. Although an early Texas history writer at heart, his topics also include socio-political issues and current events that affect Spanish-surnamed citizens in the Southwest. He and his wife Cordy visit school campuses throughout the Rio Grande Valley and South Texas teaching about the Spanish Mexican roots of Texas. As well, he has been a speaker at the annual Texas State Hispanic Genealogical and Historical Conference for the last ten years.
López is the founder of two web sites dedicated to Spanish Mexican people and events in U.S. history that are mostly overlooked in mainstream history books — Tejano Learning Center, LLC, and www.tejanosunidos.org. His hobbies include writing, walking, cooking, baking, rock/fossil collecting, landscaping, and gardening. He also volunteers in his community.
Asked what his message is to South Texas and Valley students, López said: “Stay in school and plan on entering and graduating from college or university. Learn as much as you can, but never forget your Spanish Mexican heritage.”
López also reminds students that he grew up as an English-as-a-second-language (ESL) child in a poor Laredo barrio. So, if he can do it, they can too.
Asked what is his message is to the people of the Rio Grande Valley and South Texas, López said:
“As I travel throughout the Rio Grande Valley visiting school campuses and meeting with community groups, I often answer two particular questions: (l) ‘Why haven’t we ever heard about these people, places, and events before?’ And, (2) ‘Why isn’t this information being taught to our children in the classroom?’
“Those are good questions and that’s why parents must make every effort to attend PTO and school board meetings. It’s where decisions are made regarding what your child learns in school.
“Today, more than ever, let your voice be heard and tell school officials that your children (and all students) must learn the seamless history of Texas in the classroom.
“Never forget that you have ownership of the foundation of Texas history. If you haven’t visited the Tejano Monument in Austin yet, I strongly recommend that you do and take your family. Hopefully, you will become an advocate by sharing our rich pre-1836 history with others.
“It’s unfortunate, but most Anglo Saxon and Nordic-descent people in Texas and the U.S. today have to be reminded that your pioneer ancestors founded Texas. As much as you are able to, promote your heritage by educating skeptics that just because you speak Spanish in Texas and the Southwest, it doesn’t mean that you are a recent immigrant.”
In summary, López said there is much to learn. The best way to get started, he said, is to read books written by the growing number of Tejano historians of all backgrounds who don’t accept the fact that Texas history begins in 1836-1848. To find out more, he said, join a Hispanic genealogy group nearest you. “Work on your family tree. Do it for your children,” he said.
José Antonio López’s books
To familiarize readers with López’s work, the Rio Grande Guardian is featuring each of López’s five books. If you have early Texas history fans on your Christmas gift list, you can do a lot worse than purchasing one or more of his books:
(a) “The First Texas Independence, 1813 (Don Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara Uribe, A Texas Hero)” (bilingual reprint of “The Last Knight)”. (Attention Texas history teachers: This book is written at a 7th grade reading level.)
(b) “Nights of Wailing, Days of Pain (Life in 1920s South Texas)” (a novel),
(c) “Preserving Early Texas History (Essays of an Eighth Generation South Texan)”,
(d) “Friendly Betrayal” (a novel), and
(e) “Preserving Early Texas History (Essays of an Eighth-Generation South Texan), Volume 2.”
Editor’s Note: The above feature is the second in a two-part series on the work of José Antonio López. Click here to read a recent editorial on him. To order a book from López, call 210-945-2503 or email [email protected].