for National Geographic News
In The Alamo, the new movie about the famous 1836 battle between the Texas revolutionary forces and the Mexican Army, the usual gringo heroes all play starring roles: Jim Bowie, William Travis, and, of course, the king of the wild frontier, Davy Crockett.
But another group of men fought alongside the Texas independence fighters: the Tejanos, Mexicans who had lived in Texas for generations. Their fight for Texas began long before the battle cry "Remember the Alamo" was heard. Yet their part in the shaping of the Lone Star State is often ignored.
"In the mythological story of the birth of Texas, the intricacies and complexities of the Tejanos just didn't fit. So they were essentially purged from the story," said Jim Crisp, a Texas-born history professor at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
Tejano history dates back to 1731, when 15 families from the Canary Islands came to settle in San Antonio in what was then northeastern Mexico, which in turn was under Spanish rule. The Spanish-ruled Canary Islands are an archipelago off northwest Africa.
The Tejanos were an independent frontier people who developed a ranching community and a culture that was separate from the rest of Mexico. While some of the Tejano elite prospered, most of the 2,000 Tejanos by the end of the 18th century were subsistence farmers.
"Originally, [Texas] wasn't occupied for any economic purpose," said Jesus Francisco de la Teja, a history professor at Texas State University-San Marcos. "It was occupied for strategic considerations of the [Spanish] crown. So it didn't develop."
In 1813, when the Spanish government decreed that wild livestock was the property of the crown, many Tejanos lost their means of survival and revolted against Spain. However, their rebellion against the Spanish government was easily crushed.
Things changed in 1821 as Mexico gained independence from Spain. The new federalist Texas government invited U.S. settlers to Mexican-controlled Texas. The Tejanos, recognizing the economic benefits of this immigration, welcomed the new settlers.
The territory was rich in fertile land. By 1830 there were 30,000 U.S. settlers and slaves living in Texas, compared to just 4,000 Tejanos.
But in 1834 the new president of Mexico, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, abolished the federalist system and concentrated power in Mexico City. Both Tejanos and the Anglo settlers saw this as a severe blow to Texas sovereignty. "Their principles were the same," said de la Teja. "They wanted local rule."
The Tejanos and the Anglos joined forces, and by the end of 1835, they had succeeded in driving all Mexican soldiers out of Texas. What ultimately became a movement to separate Texas from Mexico actually started as a civil war.
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