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Hispanic Heritage Month: A time to renew pride, correct historical oversights

by John Vasquez

Each year from September 15 to October 15, our nation celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month. It's an opportunity to recognize and appreciate the contributions of Latinos to the history and culture of the United States.

The timing of this celebration coincides with the dates when five Central American Countries declared independence from Spain. In Texas, the most important date is September 16 -- Dieciséis de Septiembre -- when Father Miguel Hidalgo proclaimed Mexican independence from Spain. The people of Texas, a northern Mexican colony, were active proponents of the independence movement.

Led by Juan Bautista de las Casas, rebels took control of San Antonio, the seat of Spanish government in Texas in 1811. The effort was short-lived as Spanish forces retook control of Texas six weeks later, and the leaders of the rebellion were executed.

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Within two years, the battle for Mexican independence continued in Texas as Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara led a rebel army through Texas, defeating the Royal Spanish army. Collectively these battles were larger in scope than those fought in the war for Texas independence from Mexico. On April 6, 1813, the Mexican Tejanos assumed control of San Antonio and issued a declaration of independence from Spain, aligning Texas with Father Hidalgo and the fledgling Mexican nation. A constitution was ratified nine days later, guaranteeing the rights of citizens and modeled on the foundational documents of France and the United States.

On August 18, 1813, the republican army engaged the Spanish army in a major battle near the Medina River just south of San Antonio. The rebel army was shattered and suffered more than 1,100 casualties. Mexico would not gain independence for eight more years.

Students like me who grew up in Texas in the 1960s learned Texas history from textbooks that mentioned Spanish travels across Texas by Álvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca and Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. The development of the missions was also a part of the opening paragraphs of student texts. Texas students then delved into more lengthy chapters describing the efforts of Moses and Stephen Austin to secure land grants from Mexico that were then used to attract immigrants from the United States.

But the rich history of Texas and Hispanics before the immigration from the United States was overlooked. The result is that students had an incomplete story that ignored the settling of Texas and the northern frontier of New Spain/Mexico. Hispanic heroes such as Bautista de las Casas and Gutierrez de Lara are largely unknown. There are no monuments or parks dedicated to the brave men and women who fought for freedom and independence from Spain in Texas.

When President Lyndon Johnson, a Texan, signed the law first proclaiming Hispanic Heritage Week, he called for the "people of the United States, especially the educational community, to observe such week with appropriate ceremonies and activities." It could be that President Johnson was motivated by his experience in World War II, a time when many Mexican Americans, including my father, served in the military defending America. Or maybe he was inspired by his experience teaching Latino school children in South Texas.

Whatever his motivation, Hispanic Heritage Month today provides an ideal time to make up for historical deficiencies in our textbooks and renew the pride that Hispanic families have in their rich heritage.

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John Vasquez, a retired municipal judge living in San Antonio, is volunteer president of AARP Texas.

Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month 2021 by attending free virtual events hosted by AARP Texas and community partners. Get details at: www.aarp.org/HispanicHeritageTX


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