What I Learned from the Texas Historical Commission

As a Latina, specifically Puerto Rican, I’ve watched the events in Arizona with considerable personal interest. (Because I spent my middle and high school years in El Paso, Texas, I also feel I have some understanding of the border culture in the southwest.) I usually visit Arizona at least once a year, I have friends who live there, but it disturbs me now to think that the color of my skin, definitely brown, might make me feel less at ease the next time I go there. Assuming there is a next time.

There’s nothing inappropriate with the debate about how best to deal with the immigration issue. But something seems to have happened in Arizona to turn the debate into something bigger, different, and rather ugly. Many in Arizona seem to question the legitimacy and/or desirability of the Latino role in their state. The Latinos don’t belong here, they seem to be arguing, or we need to cap their influence.

¡No mas!

The Hispanic culture is antithetical to the American spirit.

So it was with some surprise during a recent visit to Texas that I read about how arguably the most iconic representative of the American spirit–the cowboy–is actually a Spanish transplant into American culture. Now, I should have known this but it wasn’t until I read the pamphlet, written by the Texas Historical Commission, on the Chisolm Trail, that I realized the essentially Hispanic nature of the cowboy tradition.  Quoting the Texas Historical Commission:

The hardy breed of livestock known as the Texas longhorn descended from Spanish Andalusian cattle brought over by early 16th-century explorers, missionaries, and ranchers…In the early 1800s, Spain lost control of the region and abandoned the area, but ranchero and vaquero traditions lingered, affecting the look, equipment and vernacular of America’s cowboys. Terms like lasso, remuda, lariat, mustang, chaps, and bandana became a part of everyday speech, and America’s cowboys adopted the Spanish traditions of open-range ranching, branding, and round-ups.

Who knew? The article in Wikipedia on Cowboy goes into even more detail, noting that open-range ranching began in the medieval era in Spain. (It even discusses the Arabic and possibly Persian influences on the vaquero tradition.) The American word buckaroo is thought to be a corruption of the Spanish word vaquero.

What are we to make of the essentially Spanish origins of the great American Western tradition? Should we make all Arizonans turn in their cowboy hats, spurs, and chaps? Or maybe Arizona can borrow the Texas Board of Education to rewrite the history of the American West?

The truth, uncomfortable for some, is that Spanish culture has always been a primary influence on the United States. I would have more respect for the proponents of anti-immigration measures if they could somehow make their legal arguments without casting cultural aspersions. I have no problem with enforcing the law. But I do have a problem with imposing a monocultural and false version of America.

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4 responses to “What I Learned from the Texas Historical Commission

  1. Your argument is a good one, and I support the notion that aspects of the Spanish culture are in the melted soup of American culture. The book “Texas” by James Michener is a great exposition of the Spanish/Mexican roots of the Southwest, and proves your point many times over.

    However, by making this argument you seem to be suggesting that the objections to the NON-assimilation of 12 – 20 million latino illegals are not legitimate, and this is wrong.

    First, I have attended business presentations by companies who serve the latino community and seen slides with the title “The Myth of Latino Assimilation”. This slide is used to assure potential investors that the market for Spanish language programming is never going to go away, and no one argues with it because we all see the truth of it in the lack of English language crossover in the community. This is a direct assault on the American culture, as it would be from any foreign culture that refuses to melt as previous (legal) immigrant classes have done.

    Second, the genius of America is a distinctly anglo-saxon genius notwithstanding the fact that we can all find good spaghetti and meatballs, bagels, and bratwurst, all of which were brought here as part of (legal) immigrant waves in the course of American history. I am not anglo-saxon in origin, but as an American my mind is anglo-saxon in orientation, and this is a vital outcome of the system of assimilation (before you object to “anglo saxon”, read this: http://wp.me/pMW8w-iv

    Finally, we must be honest about reality, which is that culture matters. It is not by accident that the USA is the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world (and a magnet for illegals who are desperate to escape from their own, less successful countries). Many illegals from Mexico have been quoted recently as saying that they had to leave Mexico because it is a failed culture across many dimensions (of course they don’t describe it with those words). Who doesn’t agree with this? By any objective measure, the Mexican culture has not produced the stability of government and freedoms and wealth enjoyed in the USA ( which is of course the reason Mexicans have come here by the tens of millions).

    The punchline should be obvious: if we allow a far less successful culture to take root in our more successful culture, we are committing national suicide. Illegals come here because it is different from where they are fleeing from; allowing our country’s heritage and customs to be replaced with theirs is a recipe for re-creating the very thing they have sought so hard to escape.

  2. Your comments support the author’s argument. The author argues the Arizona law is about Latinos’ culture not about illegal immigration. And therefore is a bad law. Your comments are the opposite. You say that Arizonans have the right to object to Latinos living in their state. Because you believe Latinos’ culture is far less sucessful. As you put it, Latinos should not live side by side with the Anglo-Saxon’s more successful
    culture. So, I will present some facts that challenge your viewpoint.

    Many states that blend the Hispanics and Anglo-Saxon cultures are doing very well. Thank you. One of these states is Texas. And, if I may add, Hispanics make up 36% of the population of Texas. As Wikipedia puts it, Texas is one of the largesty and fastest growing economies in the US. The Lone Star state is first for business and the largest exporter of goods in the US. Now, Texas grosses more than $100B a year in trade with other nations.
    Mexico is one of these nations.

    You know, settlers of Hispanic descent and American
    Indians have lived in the Southwest for more than 400 years. As history shows, due to the weather white settlers had to adapt and learn the Spanish tradition of open range ranching. These settlers are the “vaqueros-cowboys” of today; instead of riding a horse they drive a pickup trucks. But I think getting rid of Latinos will not change the US Southwest. It is their culture too.

    First, you assume many Latinos will not learn to speak English. But the facts do not support your point. The Pew Research Center survey, Nov 29, 2007, “English Usage Among Hispanics in the US” report shows different. Nearly all Hispanics adults born in the US of immigrant parents become fluent in English. This survey shows the fluency in speaking English rises from first (23%), second (88%) and third and higher generations (94%).

    Second, you say that the genius of America is Anglo-
    Saxon. But not all genuises are Anglo-Saxons. I can name several. For example, Enrico Fermi, Italian physicist, Albert Einstein and J Robert Oppenheimer; physicist-nuclear scientists were Jews and German. And a vast number of explorers, De Soto, Columbus, Vasco Da Gamma and Vespucci came from Spain, Italy and Portugal. Very few were Anglo-Saxon.

    Third, you say culture matters, but in all cultures you will find good and bad. As history shows all cultures due to any number of events, take their turn at the top of the world superpower list. Per Wikipedia in the 16th century, Spain and Portugal were at the top of the list. The 17th century, France and England were at the top. The 18th century, was Great Britain at the top. The 19th century saw British, German Empires and the US topping the world list. The 20th century was in turmoil; two world wars, depression and British and German Empires fell from the list. At the end of this century, the US was the sole superpower. As the 21st century began, US remains as the sole superpower. But five other entities; China, India, European Union, Brazil and Russian Federation are in the hunt. Any of these five entities could become superpowers in the coming decades. Yet, we owe trillions to China and other countries. If the US cannot repay the debts; what then? Maybe at the end of this century US may not be at the top. I hope not. Time will tell.

    Finally do you remember “The Alamo”? For 13 days, from Feb-Mar 1836, 189 men held out Gen Santa Ana’s Army. Of the 189 men who fought and died at this mission, only ten came from Texas. Of the ten ones who were native Texans, only two had Anglo-Saxon last names. The eight native Texans were Tejanos fighting for the Southwest. Their names are in a piece by the San Antonio Express News, Sep 2, 2006, “Tejanos Who Helped Shape Texas”. The rest of these men came from other states and countries. These men were able to hold back Gen Santa Ana so Sam Houstond could defeat Santa Ana at San Jacinto. I can say, these Tejanos were as brave as the Anglo-Saxon men. And, I believe at that point in time both cultures were equal. Let me add that this battle was the beginning of US-Mexico was which US won in 1846. That is how US received all the Southwest area.

    But in spite of all our bias, in God’s eyes, we are equal. Last of all, where there is prejudice, it is not use to argue.

  3. If latino culture were as successful as anglo-saxon culture, then our neighbor to the south would be far wealthier and have far greater political stability and equality in its society….and there would be no illegal immigration into the USA by the tens of millions because their home culture would support them without any problem.

    But that’s not true, is it. There is something superior inside this country that acts as a magnet to these millions of people, and their illegal presence here proves the point.

    The verdict is in, all around the world, and that verdict is that former colonies of England have prospered more than other societies. This is a fact. It is also a fact that former colonies of Spain have not done as well across many economic and political stability measures.

    You misunderstood me about “geniuses”. I never said they were confined to only one culture, and I support all of your examples whole-heartedly. I am not anglo-saxon, by the way, I am descended from the “low” countries of Europe. My point is that the United States has anglo-saxon principles at its core, and all immigrants must subordinate themselves to such principles.

    There are many statistics about the lack of assimilation by the mostly Mexican millions, and your statistics mean nothing when you drive through downtown Phoenix, or LA, or even Plano (north Dallas): spanish signage is everywhere, and it is increasing, not decreasing. This terrible trend is a clear and present danger.

    And it may be the death of a nation, and we should not tolerate it. No nation – not even the USA – can survive a balkanization of its people.

  4. Pingback: Has Twitter Eaten My Brain? (Lesson 22) « RecoveringFed

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