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Hispanic heritage month


Professor writes text that touts Tejanos' role in Texas' past

El Paso Times (10/09/2005)
By Ramon Bracamontes

For decades, Texas history books have portrayed Hispanics as an enemy of the state, a group that had to be conquered and civilized by the likes of Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston.

In reality, Hispanics were never the enemy, and many leaders such as Jose Antonio Navarro and Juan Segu’n worked with Anglos to develop the Texas we live in today, according to a Texas State University professor who just finished writing a new Texas history textbook.

Professor Jesœs F. de la Teja, who is the chairman of the History Department at the school in San Marcos, said he wrote the new book, "Texas! Crossroads of North America," because existing history texts explain Texas history solely through the eyes of those who live in East Texas.

And de la Teja wrote it because, in order for the state to prosper, Hispanics must be accepted as original Texans.

His book contains information on the Mexican, Spanish and Indian cultures that influence El Paso and Texas. Celebrating these cultures is what Hispanic Heritage Month is about, he said.

"There is a growing recognition that this state, for the better, is going to be an increasing minority-majority state," de la Teja said. "Therefore, the history of this state has to be told in a way that lets everyone know that Hispanics were not the enemy because they weren't."

Texas, which became a state in 1845, transformed into a minority-majority state in 2004 when 50.2 percent of the 22.5 million people were classified as minority, according to the U.S. Census. In El Paso County, 80.4 percent of the population is Hispanic.

The demographic change will continue on the same trendline, and it is estimated that by 2026, more than 50 percent of the state will be Hispanic, according to the Texas State Data Center.

By then, de la Teja hopes that his book, "Texas! Crossroads of North America," will be in every public high school and middle school. The book is currently only a college textbook.

"The book process is evolutionary and it starts in college," he said. "I have to teach the teachers of tomorrow the correct history so that when they are the teachers, they will demand that history books be accurate."

The Texas history textbook currently being used in the 7th grade, "Texas!" by Austin Community College Professor Larry Willoughby, has very little mention of Hispanic Texas leaders like Segu’n and Navarro. It has only a one sentence referring to the Tiguas and the historic missions in El Paso.

Navarro was the most influential Tejano of his generation, according to other history books. He championed Texas independence from Mexico, then fought for the rights of Tejanos as citizens of the Republic of Texas and the United States. Segu’n, who was the mayor of San Antonio, took up arms against Santa Anna. He was a defender of the Alamo and led his fellow Tejanos in battle at San Jacinto.

The current textbook was approved in 2002 by the Texas Education Agency, and a new Texas history book will not be approved until 2011, TEA officials said.

Edna Marquez, an El Paso teacher who has been teaching seventh-grade Texas history for more than 20 years, is pleased to hear that a new college textbook with Texas Hispanics is out. She, too, hopes that one day all Texas history books will include more about Hispanics, El Paso, the border and the Tiguas.

"The history book we got this year is the first book that mentions Don Juan de Oñate," said Marquez, a teacher at Camino Real Middle School. "Every year I need to bring in my own material to teach students about Hispanics in Texas and the Tiguas. They might be mentioned in books, but not enough."

And books rarely mention El Paso.

"I get more upset that they leave El Paso out," Marquez said, "it doesn't feel like you're teaching Texas history."

Steven Slowik, an El Paso Community College student and a graduate of Burges High School, said he, too, doesn't remember much being mentioned about El Paso, the Tiguas or the historic missions in the history textbooks he used to read.

"A lot of things in Texas history do involve El Paso," Slowik said. "We do need new books."