Seven Tejanos Who Changed Texas History Forever
Texas has had many notable figures from the onset of its Republic of Texas creation. Who were these essential figures?
TEXAS SLOW IN EMBRACING TEJANOS
Texas has had many notable figures from the onset of its Republic of Texas creation. Todays predicted Texas population is 30 million, which is the largest of the 48 contiguous U.S. states. Today the estimated Hispanic and Tejano population is 12 million with the most significant concentration found in the metropolitan areas. The early Spanish-speaking settlers were Tejanos who were an integral part of Texas history that supported the revolution and helped shape the Republic of Texas into a new government. Who were these essential figures? The seven Tejanos changed texas history forever.
FIRST THREE TEJANO INFLUENCERS
Three Tejanos immensely influenced the creation of the Republic of Texas. The first bigger-than-life Tejano was Lorenzo de Zavala, the first vice-president of the Republic of Texas. Zavala was born in Yucatan, Mexico, in 1788 and died in 1836. A crusader for democratic ideals in his native Mexico, Zavala brought legislative, executive, and diplomatic experience to the fledgling Texas Republic. In 1836, he was among the signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence.
Another great Tejano hero was Juan Seguin, Mayor of San Antonio, who was born in San Antonio on October 27, 1806, and died in 1890. Son of a prominent Tejano family, he took up arms against Mexican General Santa Anna. He was a defender of the Alamo and led his fellow Tejanos in battle at San Jacinto. In 1837, Seguin was elected to the Texas Senate, the only Tejano to serve in that body.
The most influential Tejano of his generation was Jose Antonio Navarro. Navarro was born in San Antonio on February 27, 1795, and died in 1871. He championed Texas independence from Mexico and then fought for the rights of Tejanos as a citizen of the Republic of Texas and the United States. Navarro, Ruiz, and Lorenzo de Zavala became the three Mexican signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence. At that time it was estimated that the population of Texas consisted of 30,000 Anglo-Americans, 3,478 Tejanos, 14,200 Indians, of which 8,000 belonged to civilized tribes that had migrated from the United States, and a slave population of 5,000, plus a few freed slaves.
“All new states are invested, more or less, by a class of noisy, second-rate men who are always in favor of rash and extreme measures, But Texas was absolutely overrun by such men.” – Sam Houston, President of the Republic of Texas and hero of the revolution.
PAVING THE WAY FOR TEJANO ACCEPTANCE
During the battle at San Jacinto in 1836, Tejanos fought side-by-side with Commander-in-Chief Sam Houston’s troops against Mexican General Santa Anna’s army. After the war, there was quite a bit of disillusionment. The Americans who swarmed into Texas did not distinguish between Tejanos and Mexicans. In the decades that followed, Tejanos found themselves shut out of the new Texas government as well. Tejanos realized that they had to regain control over their local affairs.
A long journey was undertaken by Tejanos to regain an equal footing with Texas Anglo-Americans to eliminate the inherited second-class citizen status. The first Tejano that paved the way for acceptance was, Santos Benavides, the highest-ranking Mexican American to serve in the Confederacy. He was born in Laredo, Texas, in November 1823 and died in 1891. He served three terms in the Texas legislature from 1879 to 1884 and two terms as Laredo Board of Aldermen.
Another Tejano pioneer that paved the way was David Bennes Barkley Cantu, who was a Medal of Honor recipient, born in 1899, to Josef and Antonia (Cantú) Barkley in Laredo, Texas. When the United States entered WWI, Barkley enlisted as a private in the United States Army. Family records indicate he did not want it to be known that he was of Mexican descent, for fear he would not see action at the front. Barkley was one of three Texans awarded the nation’s highest military honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor, for service in World War I. He was also awarded the Croix de Guerre (France) and the Croce Merito (Italy). In 1918, he was buried at San Antonio National Cemetery.
Another Hispanic that brought great honor to Tejanos was Macario Garcia, born in Villa de Castano, Mexico in 1920-1972. In 1923, he moved to Sugar Land, Texas, was drafted into the Army in 1942, wounded in action at Normandy in 1944. He was awarded the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge in 1945. On June 1947, Garcia became an American citizen and earned a high school diploma in 1951. In 1981 the Houston City Council officially changed the name of Sixty-ninth Street to Macario García Drive. This 1½-mile thoroughfare runs through the heart of the city’s east side Mexican-American community. In 1983 Vice President George Bush dedicated Houston’s new Macario García Army Reserve Center, and in 1994 a Sugar Land middle school was named in García’s honor.
The final pioneering populist figure in Texas state politics was Henry Gonzales, a Tejano who served 37 years, making him the longest-serving Hispanic Member in Congress. He was born in San Antonio, Texas, in 1916 and died in 2000. In 1956 González shocked the Lone Star State by winning the election to the Texas Senate. In an extremely heavy special election turnout, González defeated Goode by a 55 to 44 percent margin on November 4, 1961, becoming the first Hispanic American to represent Texas in the U.S. Congress. In 1997, Representative González was 81 years old and in failing health, announced his retirement from the House. At the start of the 106th Congress (1999–2001), González’s son Charles succeeded him; they were the first Hispanic father-son pair of Representatives.
DARK STAIN IN TEXAS HISTORY
These outstanding Americans of Hispanic descent helped Texas overcome the dark history of segregation, discrimination, and hatred that befell Mexican minorities. One example of such hostility was a little-known dark stain in Texas’ history. It was a tragic event that occurred one hundred years ago in Porvenir, Texas, a small village south of Marfa. Sixteen unarmed Hispanic men and boys were executed in the middle of the night by Texas Rangers, U.S. Army cavalry soldiers and local ranchers, who were seeking revenge for a deadly attack that occurred at a nearby ranch a month earlier. There was no evidence tying the villagers to it, and the perpetrators never faced criminal charges.
Texas appeared to turn its back to Tejanos by the mid 1840’s. Tejanos fell out of grace from the Texas Anglo population, experiencing the same marginalization and discrimination as those of Mexican origin. However, with the passing of time and the lack of education for Tejanos, dark historical events faded from the minds of men.
With such great Tejanos such as David Bennes Barkley Cantu, Macario Garcia, Henry B. Gonzales as well as many, many unsung Tejano heroes that came before and after; they helped to erase ill perceptions held by Texas Anglos of Mexicans in Texas.
THE ONE TEXAN
Much of the activity in civil rights during the last quarter of the twentieth century and the opening decade of the new millennium focused on consolidating the gains of previous decades. For example, African Americans and Mexican Americans registered to vote in unprecedented numbers, and members of both ethnic groups won election to major local, state, and federal offices. Issues such as affirmative action in higher education remained, but the civil-rights movement permanently changed the social and political landscape of Texas. The acceptance of Hispanic Texans as in the areas of education, law enforcement, criminal justice, military, and politicians, has insured Texas to be a better state with a bright future.
Today, Tejanos are but a memory and a side note in Texas history. Today Texas has one state flag, one state government, and the acceptance of all its citizens as “One Texan.” The Texas flag is the only flag of an American State having previously served as a flag of a recognized independent country.
Texas is proudly known as the Lone Star State.