Whenever the subject of Spanish Mexicans and Tejanos in the Southwest comes up, the tendency of many Anglo Americans is to immediately think of illegal immigration, low-skill workers, drug trafficking, and similar negative impressions. That is unfortunate and very unfair. Like many Spanish-surnamed U.S. citizens, they have been taught U.S. history based on two false premises for over 150 years; (l) that all Spanish Mexican Texas history is “foreign” history and (2) that what happened in Texas before 1836 was not worth recording as the integral part of the state’s story that it is.
Teaching history in such a one-sided manner projects an erroneous notion of the real architecture of what is now Texas. It is that perception problem that TejanosUnidos.org is trying to solve. To do that, we believe a seamless telling of the Texas story from its discovery in 1519 to the present is necessary to finally tell it in a balanced manner. The story of our Spanish Mexican ancestors in Texas and in the Southwest is a beautiful and powerful chronicle of faith, grit, and determination. It is no less impressive than the story of the first English colonists in the East Coast that all school children in the U.S. are taught to admire from a very young age. Yet, for generations, the key Spanish Mexican foundation of our state has been either left out of the history books or is considered inconsequential. It is now time to fill in the many missing pieces. That is the only way to get the big picture of Texas history, since it is reasonable to assume that no one likes a story with no beginning.
The deliberate omission of Spanish and Spanish Mexican contributions in U.S. history is apparent and has a long history of its own (no pun intended). To begin with, Bob Thonhoff in his book, “The Texas Connection with the American Revolution” writes: “Viewed from a Texas perspective, the American Revolution takes on a new dimension. A product of recent historical research, the Texas connection figures into the larger role that Spain played in the winning of American independence, which had world-wide repercussions. But only the surface of the roles of Spain, New Spain, and Texas has been scratched, and much more needs to be researched and written about this interesting aspect of the Revolution.”
In a very real sense then, much of the long-standing Anglo American anxiety, suspicion, and distrust of Spanish Mexican U.S. citizens today can be traced to their lack of knowledge of the important and positive Spanish influence in forming U.S. history. In truth, Spain and New Spain have a strong record of extending hands of friendship to Anglo Americans from the very beginning. Spain and New Spain were both key reliable and dependable sources of active support during New England’s most pressing hour of need. To illustrate the level of involvement we need only to look at the Herculean efforts of one superb New Spain patriot, Don (General) Bernardo de Galvez, Governor of Spanish Louisiana. General Galvez is a most interesting, but largely forgotten, U.S. patriot. While most people can instantly tell you that Houston, Texas, was named in 1836 in honor of General Sam Houston, few people know that nearby Galveston was named in 1785 for an equally brave general. Galvez’ exploits in support of the thirteen colonies have been descriptively portrayed by some historians as heroic, masterful, and brilliant. He not only helped militarily, but he donated great amounts of his personal wealth in support of his fellow Americans. (Note: Yes, there was a time in our history when the word “American” rightly stood for everyone born in the Continent of America.) Serious historians have devoted significant time in researching General Galvez’ heroic acts in support of U.S. independence. In my view, he is the forgotten Lafayette. Here’s why.
General Galvez and his army of Spanish Mexicans (including Tejanos) and French volunteers fought in a strong, determined alliance with Anglo American forces fighting for freedom against the far superior country of England. To say that he merely helped the U.S. colonists is a classic understatement. Mr. Thonhoff goes on to declare in his book that Galvez led a wide theater of military engagement along the Gulf Coast. It must be noted that even those Anglo Americans who may be familiar with Spanish involvement in the American Revolution, may not be aware of the size and scope of Galvez’ support. With his troop strength numbering at one time over 7,000 men and the battle zone spreading from Texas to Florida, it was a formidable force. Add to that the vaqueros (cowboys) who herded thousands of cattle from Tejas to the U.S. and one starts getting the picture of the level of involvement of Tejanos in the U.S. War of Independence. It is hard to believe, but it is all true. As a result, England was forced to devote a significant amount of its resources to fight Galvez and his Spanish troops. In other words, England was the most powerful country in the world at that time. If they didn’t have to fight General Galvez’ forces on the Gulf of Mexico, it is quite possible that England would have easily crushed the much weaker U.S. colonists. That would have ended U.S.A. dreams of independence.
Mr. Thonhoff describes it thusly: “More significantly to us (the U.S.), they (Spain and New Spain) aided the American colonists immeasurably in the war effort, both by providing arms, ammunition, and supplies by way of the Mississippi River and by diverting British manpower that could have been used against the Continental Army.” As such, the dimension of Spain’s and New Spain’s roles in helping the colonists sustain their independence cannot be overemphasized. Such important aid continued with the military assistance provided by Don Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara and his battle-hardened Tejano soldiers living in exile in Louisiana. General Andrew Jackson requested Don Bernardo’s help at the 1815 Battle of New Orleans assuring the American victory against the British in this last battle of the War of 1812.
Anglo American leaders at the time recognized the vital role of Spanish-surnamed Americans on the side of the young U.S.A. For example, both Bernardos were cited by the White House as warrior-statesmen and honored for their intellect, diplomacy, and leadership abilities. Equally important, after the war England attributed their loss of its colonies in America to Spain’s bulwark of support to the Anglo Americans.
Yet, the widespread Spanish Mexican immersion and interaction in the American Revolution is little known today. It seems that these historic events have deliberately been left out of the pages of most of our U.S. history books. The same apparently intentional, undue bias against Spain, New Spain, and Spanish Mexicans in general continues in the telling of Texas history. In other words, pre-1836 Texas history tends to be taught as “foreign” history. It is not.
For a long time, Texas history has been taught as if it begins with the arrival of Anglo Americans from the U.S (after the 1836 Battle of the Alamo). Unfortunately, that presents an incomplete picture of our state’s history. Spanish Mexicans had been here for over 300 years, building a lifeline of presidios, missions, pueblos, villas, and ranchos. Some may be surprised to learn that the 1836 Battles of the Alamo, Goliad, and San Jacinto are part of a chronological chapter in Mexico's history, not the U.S. Texas did not join the U.S. until 1845 as a slave state. Moreover, Mexico lost Texas and over half of its sovereign territory in 1848 as a result of the U.S. Mexico War of 1846-1848.
Pre-1836 Texas history is as much a part of Texas and U.S. history as any other. Just because our ancestors spoke Spanish and not English should not matter in recording the rich, vibrant continual history of early Texas. Are not the roots of a tree an indispensable part of the tree? Is not the foundation of a structure a key component of the structure itself? So it is with early Spanish Mexican history in Texas. Now is the time to continue to scratch below the surface as suggested by Mr. Thonhoff and finally recognize the importance of the Spanish Mexican roots of Texas.
In short, our long-range goal is that one day, Cabeza de Vaca, Diego Ramon, Father Margil, Gil Ybarbo, Father Miguel Hidalgo, Bernardo de Galvez, Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara, the Menchaca Family, Martin and Patricia de Leon, Dr. Hector Garcia, Gus Garcia, Carlos Cadena, and many more Spanish-surnamed individuals will respectfully be considered as “Texas” and “U.S.” history heroes.
A. Who are the Tejanos? (Short Version)
Tejanos are those European-descended Spanish Mexican pioneers that were the first to settle in Texas starting in the early to mid-1700s. Tejanos are different than their other sister Hispanic groups in the U.S. because Tejanos are not immigrants to the U.S. Just like Native Americans and Spanish Mexicans in the Southwest, they were already here when Texas was taken from Mexico. Modern-day Tejanos and Tejanas are those citizens who trace their ancestry in Texas to the early 1700s to mid-1800s. The majority of Tejanos have Native American roots. It should be noted that many Tejanos have Anglo, French, Irish, German, and other non-Hispanic surnames. Also, Tejano family links stretch south beyond the U.S.-Mexico border. The reason is very simple. Families were separated in two when the U.S.-Mexico border became a permanent Mason-Dixon Line in 1848. Today, many Mexican citizens in Monclova, Monterrey, Saltillo, Queretaro, Zacatecas, and numerous towns and cities in central and northern Mexico can trace their connection to the first families of Texas. Thus, the Mexican people comprise an important aspect of Tejano extended families. (For the standard version of "Who are the Tejanos?", see FAQs Tab.)
B. Quick Facts
(1) Texas was discovered by the Spanish Explorer, Alvarez de Pineda in 1519.
(2) Spanish footsteps had been heard in Texas for 300 years before Anglo Americans ever set foot in Texas.
(3) Spanish has been spoken in Texas and the U.S. Southwest for 490 years, while English has been spoken for only 173 years.
(4) The Spanish language, the language of Cervantes, is the lifeline that connects us to our early Texas past. Citizens who speak Spanish in the U.S. Southwest either as a primary or a secondary language are no less patriotic than those citizens elsewhere in the U.S. who only speak English. Bilingualism is not a sin of U.S. citizenship.
(5) Don (Lt. Colonel) Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara is the first President of the Republic of Texas, not Sam Houston. On April 6, 1813, Don Bernardo signed and read the words of the first Texas Declaration of Independence. Days later, he issued its first constitution.
(6) Tejanos are the first to pay the ultimate price of freedom in Texas. Over 800 Spanish-surnamed patriots died at the Battle of Medina on August 18, 1813, 20 miles south of the Alamo. The Texas Historical Commission calls the Battle of Medina the largest battle ever fought on Texas soil. More Texas patriots died there than in all of Sam Houston’s 1836 revolution battles combined. In comparison, only 189 men died at the 1836 Battle of the Alamo. Yet, this latter battle is the one that most everyone remembers of Texas independence. That is due to years of exaggeration by ethnic-biased Anglo historians and Hollywood-type movie producers.
(7) The Tejano Monument being built on the capitol grounds in Austin is the first monument to honor the contributions of our Spanish Mexican ancestors in Texas. It is long overdue.
C. Words of Inspiration
“El hombre como entidad pensante, siempre se ha enfrentado ante la incógnita de su ser: ¿Quien soy? ¿De donde vengo? ¿A donde voy?
Conocer nuestro origen (¿De donde vengo?) es saber quiénes somos (¿Quien soy?).
Estableciendo nuestra identidad con el pasado, afirmamos nuestra proyecci ón hacia el futuro (¿A donde voy?)”
“A human being, as a thinking individual, has always pondered his existence: Who am I? Where do I come from? Where am I going?
Knowing one’s origins (Where do I come from?) is to understand who we are (Who am I?).
Identifying with our past affirms our projection to the future (Where am I going?)”
Joel Uribe, Author, Historian, 1987
That is why knowing about the Spanish Mexican roots of Texas is so important. Spread the word. We have a great story to tell.