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Hotheads ignorant of state history


http://www.star-telegram.com

Fort Worth Star Telegram (04/22/2006)
By BUD KENNEDY

Juan Seguin is a hero who fought proudly for Texas' freedom.

Yet if he were alive today, he would be called a traitor. And some Yankee blabbermouth on Dallas talk radio would probably call him an "illegal" or tell him that he should "go back to Mexico."

Seguin was born a fourth-generation Texan in San Antonio. He befriended Stephen F. Austin and led a Texas army company into battle 170 years ago Friday when Texas won its independence at San Jacinto.

Oh, by the way, he spoke only Spanish.

In the raging radio bluster about the 1.4 million illegal immigrants in Texas and their equally illegal employers, some new Texans seem to be confused about who is a Texan and who is not.

If you speak Spanish or take pride in our bilingual and bicultural heritage, you are not less of a Texan.

On the other hand, if you don't like hearing Spanish or celebrating Latino traditions, then you don't belong in Texas.

Seven million Tejanos are not "aliens" or "illegals."

They are Texans and Americans.

Five of six Texas residents of Hispanic descent live here legally, including nine of 10 schoolchildren. Some are descended from families that have lived in Texas since the 18th century.

But to hear a few Dallas radio entertainers and their callers, you'd think that Texas has been "invaded" by "aliens" speaking Spanish and celebrating Cinco de Mayo.

By the way, the hero of Mexico's Cinco de Mayo holiday was a Texan. You are welcome to look up Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza.

You might also want to look up the first vice president of the Republic of Texas.

He was from Merida, Yucatan: Vice President Lorenzo de Zavala.

And you might want to look up our Founding Fathers. There were two native Texans among them: Jose Antonio Navarro and Jose Francisco Ruiz of San Antonio.

Those Founding Fathers ordered all Texas documents printed in English and Spanish.

Then you might want to look up Juan Seguin.

Texas President Sam Houston praised him for his "chivalrous and estimable conduct" as a colonel at San Jacinto, where he led an all-Tejano company of soldiers with names such as Flores and Manchaca and Herrera.

Then, Seguin was sent to retake control of San Antonio for the Texas army. He took on the job of burying Texas' fallen defenders at the Alamo. Later, he was elected to the Texas Senate and became mayor of San Antonio. But he was accused of remaining loyal to Mexico and fled there. During the Mexican War, he fought against the United States -- reluctantly, he would later say. Eventually, he returned to become a Bexar County Democratic leader and a South Texas county judge, and then he recrossed the unregulated border and retired in Nuevo Laredo.

If Seguin were alive today, "he would probably be as confused as he was back then," said professor Frank de la Teja, chairman of the history department at Texas State University-San Marcos and the editor of a collection of Seguin's translated memoirs.

"The more I think about Seguin, the more I understand the complexity of Texas," de la Teja said Friday by phone.

"People like Juan Seguin felt like, as proud Texans, they were very much part of two worlds. Then all these newcomers came into Texas and treated them like outsiders.

"Your parents were Texans, your grandparents were Texans, your great-grandparents were Texans -- and suddenly, you're an outsider? You should 'go back to Mexico'?"

Sound familiar?

De la Teja said Seguin would be bitterly disappointed today to hear Dallas radio stations bash Spanish-speaking Tejanos as "invaders" or "illegals."

"He would be confounded by such a narrow-minded, jingoistic attitude," de le Teja said. "There's just a lot of ignorance.

"He was aligned with Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston. These were people who were thinking progressively and trying to build Texas together. They weren't trying to divide Texas."

In de la Teja's book, he quotes Seguin as complaining about the increasing disenfranchisement of Tejanos: "The Mexico-Texians were among the first who sacrificed their all in our glorious Revolution, and the disasters of war weighed heavy upon them, to achieve those blessings which, it appears, [they] are destined to be the last to enjoy."

The book also quotes Seguin's eulogy, translated into English, at the burial of the Alamo defenders:

"These remains ... are those of the valiant heroes who died in the Alamo.

"The spirit of liberty appears to be looking out ... and pointing to us, saying: 'There are your brothers, Travis, Bowie, Crockett and others whose valor places them in the rank of my heroes.'"

Seguin was our brother standing on that burial ground. What would we call him today?