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Book Review

Johnson, Benjamin Heber, Revolution in Texas. How a Forgotten Rebellion and Its Bloody Suppression Turned Mexicans into Americans. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2003.

Understand Texas Latinos Through History

Dr Johnson is at SMU and will be on the "Workers Beat" radio program 8 AM December 22 at 89.3 FM to talk about his breakthrough history. The book goes over the transition in the Rio Grande Valley around 1915. Small rancheros owned most of the land and dominated the culture & politics prior to the arrival of the railroad. After the RR came in 1904, anglo farmers poured in to irrigate and create the largest agricultural export area in the nation. They "moved aside" the rancheros largely through economic destruction, but a considerable number of them were killed or terrorized off their land.

As Johnson tells it, the "Plan de San Diego," to murder anglo ranchers, was a Tejano uprising that gave the rangers and vigilantes their opportunities. It's yet another story of the Texas Rangers' brutal history.

The book is in the Dallas library: 976 .44061 J66R 2003.

The short "uprising" in 1915 had several antecedents, including the uprisings led by Juan Cortina in 1859 and Catarino Garza in 1891, "both of which showcased Tejano resentment of Anglo power and arrogance." There is a good film, The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez that gives some of the feeling that Tejanos had toward the new Anglos at that time.

Theoretically, the Tejano uprising of 1915 was outlined in a plan that was intercepted and published all over Texas. The plan called for liberation of African-Texans as well as the Tejanos. It called for liberation of the states of Texas, New Mexico, California, and Arizona, as well as part of Mississippi and Oklahoma.

Venustiano Carranza in Mexico did not support the Tejanos, and made his deal with Woodrow Wilson. In early 1916, the "revolution" was over. But the repression of Latinos in the Valley had barely begun. Hundreds, if not thousands, were killed by Rangers and/or vigilantes. Thousands fled to Mexico, even though the ongoing revolution there made life very difficult. News reports of the killings were suppressed. Editors were threatened and/or arrested. After WWI took effect, truth was the main victim. Texas Governor Ferguson wanted war with Mexico.

Latinos were drafted into the army disproportionately, but disproportionate numbers of them resisted, too. Segregation was established. Latino schools were far worse than those provided for Anglos by the state. This condition has persisted on into the coming session of the Legislature.

State Representative J.T. Canales was finally able to get the Rangers investigated in 1919. He was stalked and threatened by Ranger Frank Hamer through the proceedings. Afterward, he retired and another Latino was not seated in the Legislature 1920-1956 until Henry B Gonzalez of San Antonio. The 1920 Legislature documented many heinous crimes of the Rangers. However, the Legislature decided not to publish their results. The truth was not generally available until the 1970s. By then, an altogether different image of the murderous Texas Rangers had been well established.

Civil rights organizations came together in the League of United Latin American Citizens around 1929. They spread from the Valley throughout Texas. They were, and are, often criticized for orienting toward citizens, but they were just about the only effective response to the murder and mayhem in the Valley. It is noteworthy that the book also document's LULAC's opposition to the AFL's calls for deportations. The AFL-CIO changed that unfortunate position in 1999.

If we didn't know about the horrors of 1915-forward, could we understand the Valley, or Texas?