By Jonathan Durán
April 1995; Volume 1, Issue #6
I: Beyond the Alamo's Facade
The ignorance demonstrated by protesters of the March 2nd "Texas excellence" celebration being told angrily to "go back to Mexico" is the intentional result of those who benefited, and those who continue to benefit, from the social injustices following Texas' independence from Mexico. Anglo settlement in Texas was part of the greater project of Manifest Destiny in which this continent was viewed as essentially a God-given "wilderness," there for the taking, whose native peoples were "immoral heathens" who were not worthy of this land. This prejudice extended to mestizo Tejanos, who bore the "sin" of racial mixture. Stephen F. Austin, the "father of Texas" (and step-father to Tejanos), described Mexicans as "brutes." Yet these are the same people who set up an infrastructure of ranchos, missions, and presidios (military posts) after Mexico's independence from Spain and who established the community property and adoption laws that are still in use today. Also, while the Alamo stands as a shrine to the Anglos who were killed there (the Daughters of the Texas Republic will not mention the Tejanos), there is no monument commemorating the approximately 100,000 Tejanos killed by Spanish royal forces between 1810 and 1821 during the war for independence from Spain.
Supporters of the March 2nd celebration say that it is a celebration of freedom for Texans. Nevertheless, in the aftermath of the "Revolution," Juan Seguín, hero of San Jacinto and mayor of San Antonio, wrote: "At every hour of the day and night, my countrymen ran to me for protection against the assaults or exactions of these adventurers. Sometimes by persuasion, I prevailed upon them to desist.... How could I have done otherwise? Could I leave them defenseless, exposed to the assaults of foreigners, who, on the pretext that they were Mexican, treated them worse than brutes?" Eventually, Mayor Seguín fled to Mexico in 1842 because of death threats by the outraged Anglos. Mexicans were kicked out of Texas towns and counties, the city of Austin in 1853 and 1855, Matagordo and Colorado counties in 1856. This "Texas tradition" is still alive--as in recent years, African-Americans who tried to move into the all-white town of Vidor were intimidated into leaving.
As this last example shows, Tejanos were not the only ones who suffered (and suffer) from the legacy of 1836. Texas independence allowed the legalization of slavery, and by 1860, there were nearly 200,000 people (whose descendants are taught to sing along blindly on March 2nd) suffering torturous servitude further to enrich their Anglo owners. Ironically, even though Texas supposedly freed itself from Mexican "tyranny," many runaway slaves fled to Mexico. The proper day for African-Americans to celebrate liberty would be June 19th, the anniversary of the Union Army's arrival in Galveston in 1865, and not March 2nd.
While the Mexican government stipulated that immigrants into Texas be Catholic, there was never any state persecution of Protestants. Also, there were no attempts to force the Spanish language upon immigrants. Liberal "property rights" were enjoyed in this state, with protection for debtors from confiscation, and empresario grants that offered extremely cheap land to settlers. Finally, although the Mexican government officially banned slavery in 1830, the "right" to hold slaves was not "violated" in practice since no slaves were confiscated.
In contrast, Africans enjoyed the "right," in an independent Texas, to endure decades of slavery. Tejanos were harassed and slaughtered by paramilitary groups such as the legendary Texas Rangers so that Anglo ranchers could confiscate their land. Indigenous peoples, the true "native Texans," continued to be killed or continuously displaced by competition with Anglo farmers. Furthermore, while Spanish was not forced upon Anglo immigrants in pre-independence Texas, there are now people trying to impose English-only laws upon immigrants as well as native-born Texans who speak other languages.
II: The March 2nd Celebration Shows Its True Colors
It is important to note the social context on campus that gave birth to the unfortunately traditional "March 2nd protests." A series of racist incidents in the spring of 1990, including stereotypical depictions of African-Americans and Mexicans on t-shirts and in theme parties, spurred mobilization to combat the continued exclusionary environment at UT against people of color, women, and homosexuals. Two proposals were written that outlined fundamental reforms necessary to make this campus more inclusive: ONDA (Orientaciones Nuevas para la Diversificación de la Academia) by Todos Unidos, a coalition of Chicana/o student organizations and individuals, and PRIDE (Proposed Reforms to Institute Diversity in Education) by the Black Student Alliance. The administration flatly rejected both proposals without any real explanation.
Nevertheless, these proposals summarized the real concerns of students, and they were not forgotten as soon as then-President William Cunningham, now Chancellor, "filed" ONDA and PRIDE in the trashcan. This excerpt from the introduction to ONDA gives a good description of the spirit of the March 2nd protests: "Our struggle is born out of the realities of our communities. Chicana/o communities are devastated by economic disenfranchisement today more than ever. Not only do we endure constant attempts at cultural genocide, we are disproportionately poor, undereducated, mis-educated, and underrepresented as a consequence of state and national policies that create and perpetuate this disadvantaged position." Thus, into the following spring, progressive students carried the desire to change a system that is based upon disadvantage; not just economically, but even in the representation in history.
Since the spring of 1991, MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlán) has protested the March 2nd celebration on the steps to the Main Building for all the reasons described above. Just as interesting as the reasons behind the March 2nd protests, though, are the reactions they incite. The most common reaction is "go back to Mexico." In a frightening parallel with San Antonio in the days of Seguín, Chicanas/os are viewed as foreigners who belong on the next bus to Nuevo Laredo and not the shuttle bus to "the biggest white university and the whitest big university." As Tejanos who fought with Anglos against Santa Anna's armies were denied the benefits of independence, so Chicanas/os who contributed to this state's "greatness" are denied recognition as Texans.
The "Texas tradition" of racism continued in 1995 as reactionaries told the protesters that they were "wetbacks" and "human excrement" who did not belong here. One angered student said: "you people are ruining this country," and another, that "if you don't like Texas get the hell out."
On one hand, these remarks are part of the ongoing tradition of xenophobia and scapegoating that produces anti-immigrant legislation, such as Proposition 187 in California, and human rights abuses by border patrol agents. Perhaps the person who said that these people were "ruining this country" was mourning the end of the idyllic days of Texas after 1836, when Anglos were free to murder Tejanos and Native Americans for their land and to buy African slaves to work it.
On the other hand, these expressions of hatred are not only based on race but on control of history. For the simple crime of raising historical details that cause one to reconsider the traditional interpretation of Texas independence, MEChA has been accused of having "a hidden agenda" (by Phillip VanDerSlice of The Daily Texan). Specifically, he is referring to the Young Conservatives of Texas' unfounded accusations that MEChA "believes this land should be returned to Mexico, and are willing to fight the U.S. government to see that it happens" and that its literature describes "the new country, Aztlán, which Texas will become a part of if MEChA has its way." These unfounded accusations (MEChA has never printed such literature) show how determined some people in this state are to maintain their own partial versions of history. How ironic, then, that in front of the Main Building, upon which is carved the motto "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free," protesters who demand that the truth be told are discredited as "extremists."
MEChistas are not extremists planning to storm the Capitol; nor are they spoil-sports who just want to ruin everyone else's fun on March 2nd. However, there is a vital difference between celebrating one's own heritage and celebrating the domination of one group of people over another; St. Patrick's Day, Black History Month and Chinese New Year are not the same as Texas Independence Day or Columbus Day. Instead of celebrating March 2nd, MEChA believes that it should be, like Memorial Day and Veterans Day, a day of commemoration, an opportunity to look at the entire history concerning Texas independence and reflect upon its aftermath. The revolutionary ideal of freedom continues to be enjoyed less by some than by others, and in order that all people in Texas be truly free, MEChA is making an "extreme" demand--that the truth be known.
MEChA meetings are held every Monday at 6:00 p.m. in the Chicana/o Culture Room on the fourth floor of the Texas Union.