Tejano Legacy Rancheros and Settlers in South Texas essay

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Armanado C. Alonzo is an associate professor in the department of history at TexasA&MUniversity. He has been doing research on Texas and Northern Mexico history, a study that focuses on the rise of border society during the early nineteenth century. Armanado C. Alonzo did his bachelors degree on American Government in the University of Notre Dame in 1972. He later pursued a master’s degree in history in University of Texas at Pan American in 1983. During his master’s course, he successfully defended and wrote his thesis on “A History of the Mexicans in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas: Their Role in Land

Development and Commercial Agriculture, 1900-1930.”When he was through with his master’s degree, he further did his Philosophy of Doctorate on American History at IndianaUniversity in 1991. His dissertation in his PhD was, “Tejano Rancheros and Changes in Land Tenure, Hidalgo County, Texas, 1850-1900.” The dissertation Chair was Prof. George Juergens.

            One of Alonzo’s publications was the book, “Tejano Legacy: Rancheros and Settlers in South Texas, 1734-1900. Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press” which was published in 1998. Alonzo presents a South Texas history from the colonial era of the Spanish people up to 1900. He argues that one of the things that were central to the main objective in Tejano history was the importance of space and land. Alonzo (1998) says, “The importance of land or space to the settlers' way of life and identity” (p3).  By looking at the land tenure amongst the small, medium and large land property in the trans-Nueces area, Alonzo supports this idea by making use of data from tax records, bills of sale, wills and census among other sources. The Tejanos maintained cultural and historical identities that are evidently strong even at present by holding onto their pieces of land.  Ownership preservation was difficult although but declined later in the period after the 1880s.

            The book is divided into nine different chapters. It covers the initial settlement of South Texas under Jose de Escandon in the 1730s all through to the decline of Tejano land holdings by the year1900. Chapter one of the book covers the story of the Spaniards, Indians and the inhospitable Seno Mexicans.  Alonzo states that, “the conquest of the present Mexico was a very dynamic process that proceeded with carrying speeds and in various directions, counting for generations and reaching particular regions at different times and sometimes because of different motives” (p.15). He traces back the conquest of the Aztec Empire in 1521 where a small army of the Spanish people pushed across Middle America very fast. These Spanish armies defeated the natives of the land in the south and south east parts of Mexico.

            Chapter two focuses on Hacia La Frontera. Alonzo documents the origins of Spanish and Mexican societies in the present day south Texas in the 1730 t0 1848. Spanish bureaucracy in New Mexico looked at a variety of proposals before intentionally making a choice of a colonizer for the subjugation. These considerations were made before the Seno Mexicans could be settled.  The first two proposals were made in 1736.

            Chapter three talks of the early economic life in the lower Rio Grande Frontier in the 1730s all through to the 1848 again. Alonzo takes an economic view of the lower Rio Grande Frontier from 1730s and shows how the economic empowerment came to being. Alonzo uses empirical evidence which supports his assertions in this chapter. The information presented in this chapter shows the buoyancy of hope that was realized and anticipated in the communities living in the region.

            Chapter four of the book centers on the making of a Tejano homeland in south Texas, population growth, adaptation and conflict in 1848-1900. Alonzo states that towns and ranchos organized a number of secular tasks which were meant to break the monotony of the difficult existence of the pobladores and to strengthen the cultural identity of the Mexicans. In spite of the dissolution of the rule of the Spanish people in the borderlands together with the disintegration of the control of the Mexicans over the region, the aspect of region remained to be very imperative among the mejicano settlers in the south of Texas.  “Churches, schools and the first hospitals in the region were often under the direction of the oblates or of several catholic women religious communities that came to work among the Mexicans and Mexican Americans” 

            Chapter five on the other hand focuses on losing ground. Alonzo looks at the Anglo challenges to the Mexican landholders and the land grant adjudication in the south Texas from 1846 and 1900. The chapter in particular covers the legislative confirmation of land grants in south Texas in 1852. “The validation of the land grants satisfied not only the rancheros but also all those claiming an interest in or destiny to acquire land” .

            Chapter six of the book is a case study of the Tejanos land tenure in the HildagoCounty in Texas from 1848 to 1900. Alonzo examines quantitatively and qualitatively on the dynamics involved in a specific place and over a significant time period. The chapter further makes a comparative landholding in HidalgoCounty between 1852 and 1870. Mexicans were reported to have been the largest group of people who owned land in HidalgoCounty (The Southwest Border Area, n.d). The number of the Mexican landowners exceeded that of a combined group of the Europeans, Anglos and other ethnic groups.

            In chapter seven, Alonzo focuses on the recovery and expansion of Tejano ranching in south Texas from 1845 and 1885 and the good years there after. Land tenure and ranching was in particular involved with a lot of saga. This affected the settling down of Tejanos settled. After settling, Tejanos developed and advanced greatly. Tejanos sustained their dominance in demography and a big measure of the status in the society for other five decades. During this time, there was marked increase and expansion in livestock production, massive projects of irrigation and commercial farming (Carlson, 2000). 

In chapter eight, there is an account of the decline of Tejano ranching in its social and economic bases from 1885 to 1900. A boom in the economy of livestock sustained and expanded ranching after the USA took over in 1848. However, there are a number of factors that inhibited their success at some stage. This was in the final decade and a better part of the half of the 19th century. There was a rise in competition from the Anglos, bad weather, depreciating price value and difficulties in securing loans by the Tejanos. The cultural practice which was characterized with the subdivision of ranchlands among the heirs also affected the Tejanos. As a result, the landholdings of the Tejanos became too small to host commercial ranching.  

The last chapter in the book focuses on Tejano Rancheros and Hispanic landholding in the southwest from 1848-1900. Alonzo points to the steady shifts in Tejano land tenure and the much ease of the adjudication of Tejano land-grant in south Texas under the rule of USA. He later concludes that the "rancheros did not suffer as harsh a treatment as is commonly depicted in the popular literature, historical memory, and scholarly literature"


            Alonzo overcomes and at the same time refutes the misinterpretations of authors who perceive conflict as the main theme in the history of Tejano. He approaches the history of Tejano differently from other authors who assert that the loss of land in Tejano was the worst when compared to the Southwest locations. Alonzo further asserts that the book offers a more-in depth analysis into the land tenure of Tejano than what other previous studies have been able to achieve. Alonzo makes a conclusion that “Tejanos in the LowerValley participated in an expanding commercial ranching economy and that they maintained control of their lands in much of the region until the 1880s. Shaped by their colonial experience, Tejanos were a resilient, pragmatic, and largely self-directed people" (p. 11). He says that Tejanos history is one of persistence and survival. Alonzo presents a good monograph that focuses on the land tenure of Tejano in South Texas. Alonzo makes use of impressive data that supports his work through tables showing livestock which was old in different counties during specific years, population, percentage of Anglos and Hispanics in different occupations and ethnicity in various dimensions. The tables are unbelievably informative which must have taken tremendous time in compiling them. All the same, the book has rich information on Tejanos history. 


            Despite the magnificence of the work, there are some questions which arise while reading the book. The focus by Alonzo is on the Tejano community. Conversely, as a historian of the Native American origin, he should have provided more information concerning the early native communities who pre-occupied the area. The inclusion of the Coahuiltecans in chapter one as a community that lived in the region is not sufficient enough to give a detailed account of their lifestyle.  Alonzo should have highlighted some information on how the community survived in their time first as a counterpoint and finally on the Tejano settlements. May be archaeological data or studies of anthropology are few. Alonzo talks of the Comanche and Lipan Apache raids on Tejano communities and livestock. However, he does not give an explanation of the events which might have led to the increased raids, specifically in the 1830s.


            This book was written by the author to show how the Tejanos created a sense of neighborhood through their shared struggle. Despite the odds of periodic floods and drought, raids, decreased production, the Tejanos impacted both regional and local markets in South Texas and other parts in the south.  The arrival of outsiders in to the land impacted a lot to Tejano landholding (Matovina, 1999). Alonzo shows that the arrival of the Europeans and the Anglos did not disrupt the patterns of Tejano landholding immediately. Instead, the Tejanos experienced an increase in production and specifically in livestock farming. Apparently, the Tejanos who excelled had a diversified approach in other economic sectors. Most importantly, market expansions after 1848 and the farmers who came up kept the viability of the market. Even though outsiders ultimately disrupted the land tenure and regarded the Tejanos as second class people, Alonzo argues interestingly that Tejano class structures were characterized by a lessened perception of the significance of color in the Tejano society. The outsiders mistreated the Tejanos because they did not have power (Arreola, 2002). Characterized with tangible evidence, this work should be contrasted with other frontier parts of Spanish borderlands. It may even be compared to the American West on a larger dimension.   While researchers come up with a similar result all through the West, Alonzo has demonstrated a unique thing if actually that is the case. The evidence that Alonzo provides supports it. It would seem that the necessity of building economic viability and the expansion of the frontier of Spanish authority outclassed the significance of class and racial groupings (The Southwest Border Area, n.d). However, it may also appear that after the communities were established firmly, distinctions of class and race emerged. 

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