By José Antonio López
Rio Grande Guardian
SAN ANTONIO - The soon-to-be unveiled Tejano Monument on the south lawn of the State Capitol in Austin continues to add to the discussion of the founding of this great place we call Texas.
For one, Spanish Mexican-descent Tejanos clearly believe that the memorial is long overdue. After all, they are living proof of the strong unbroken genealogical link to Texas’ very foundation. However, what is it about a large bronze statue that so lifts Tejano spirits and their many non-Hispanic Tejano history supporters?
To begin with, it will be the first monument honoring the founders of Texas. Second, for way too long, mainstream historians have clouded pre-1836 Texas history with a thick fog of exclusion that will finally be cleared by the powerful beams of the Tejano Monument spotlight. Said another way, the memorial is a door that has long been shut but will now be open wide, revealing the rich panoramic view of early Texas history.
Inquisitive U.S. citizens (including many Spanish Mexican-descent Texans themselves) will finally learn more about pre-1836 Texas history, such as the direct connection to extended family in Central and Northern Mexico. For example, why do some citizens in Texas and elsewhere in the Southwest speak Spanish at home? Why is it that so many cities, towns, and communities in Texas and in several surrounding U.S. states have Spanish names? How old are these communities? Who built them? Where did Tejanos come from? What are the details (roots) of Texas independence before Sam Houston’s arrival? How did Spanish-speaking founders like Miguel Hidalgo, Allende, Dominguez, Morelos, and Jiménez influence Texas independence? How did they inspire Tejano heroes such as Las Casas, Gutiérrez de Lara, and Menchaca? What’s the role of the Mexican states of Coahuila and Tamaulipas in Texas history? What is the connection between the city of Monclova and Texas? How did the vast Southwest region become part of the U.S.?
In reality, Texas (and the U.S. Southwest) is the only region that was a cohesive part of another sovereign nation, The Republic of Mexico. With its Spanish language-based cultural makeup, the territory is unmistakably part of “Old Mexico.” That’s why Spanish is all around, in the name of our states, cities, and towns, and in everyday culture, such as the very vibrant ambience of the Southwest -- its music, food, the ranch-and-cowboy phenomena, and best of all, its friendly, beautiful people. Thus, although conquered militarily, it is forever imbued with a strong Spanish Mexican culture. No other U.S. section can claim these characteristics. In short, Texas already had a sense of community with its own laws and strong, organized business and trade systems. It was to these towns deep in the heart of Texas along the Camino Real that attracted the first Anglo immigrants from the U.S.
Yet, for all their blood, sweat, and tears, the Spanish Mexican pioneers of Texas remain virtually unknown to the general public. Beginning in 1836 with Texas independence and sanctioned when Texas was admitted to the U.S. as a slave state, Tejanos entered a long period of rejection, existing as a neglected sub-group within the mainstream Anglo society. Quite suddenly, the U.S. Mexico border became a solid wall, symbolically serving to exclude Texas’ Mexican past in the subsequent Anglo-motivated recording of Texas history. It never had to be that way.
The Tejano Monument is timely. As a result of the noisy illegal immigration hysteria, some U.S. citizens continue to be wedded to an anti-Mexican perspective. For example, it is that stance that is driving the anti-Mexican studies effort in Arizona. Unfounded fear is further fueled by the biased rhetoric of politicians and radio/TV personalities. Ironically, some of these people live in Spanish-named, Spanish-settled states, such as California, Arizona, Colorado, and Texas.
Not aware of our long history, some citizens question our choice to speak Spanish and preserve our distinctive culture in neighborhoods that were established in the 1700s. In day-to-day matters, Spanish is sometimes spoken exclusively in these barrios. It is the same reason why priests in San Fernando Cathedral have been giving masses in Spanish for nearly 300 years.
Clearly, the Tejano Monument is for for the children. Spanish Mexican-descent students have up to now been deprived of their heritage both in the classroom and in mainstream history books. The reason? For years, generations of their parents have been taught that the history of their ancestors is somehow inferior to that of New England-descent citizens. As such, they take the path of less resistance and opt not to discuss their heritage with their children. So, in that sense, the Tejano Monument offers a much-needed teaching tool. The monument will at long last put the history of New Spain in Texas and the Southwest at a parallel of dignity and respect with the teaching of New England history. It is an answer to Tejano parents’ prayers.
In short, today’s Spanish Mexican-descent students are indeed blessed. They are the first generation that will be shown the path to success by a monument dedicated to their courageous ancestors. Importantly, it will shine alongside other honorable statues in our state capital of Austin. In achieving this equality, the Tejano Monument signifies a first step toward inclusivity and acceptance of Texas history in a seamless manner from its discovery in 1519 to the present. By approving the monument’s location in a prominent site on the state capitol grounds, Governor Perry has placed a Texas-size version of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval on the bi-lingual, bi-cultural Texas history. That fact is importance and must not be underestimated.
Finally, the monument equals momentum. Having a sense of ownership of Texas history will confidently inspire and motivate Spanish-surnamed students in Texas and the Southwest to stay in school, graduate from a four-year college, and become productive members of their community. It is indeed a new day in the teaching and learning of Texas and U.S. Southwest history. As in the myth of the Phoenix, the Tejano Monument represents a new beginning. From the cold ashes of obscurity and rejection, Tejano history will rise and be reborn into a long-lasting Tejano Renaissance. Ya era tiempo
José Antonio (Joe) 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 two books: “The Last Knight (Don Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara Uribe, A Texas Hero)”, and “Nights of Wailing, Days of Pain (Life in 1920s South Texas).” Lopez is also the founder of the Tejano Learning Center, LLC, and www.tejanosunidos.org, a Web site dedicated to Spanish Mexican people and events in U.S. history that are mostly overlooked in mainstream history books.