The Spanish who first set foot in the Rio Grande Valley in the 1500s have impacted this country's menu, vocabulary, wardrobe and even its laws. But historians who took part in a Spanish Texas Conference held at The University of Texas-Pan American, Nov. 14, say the problem is most people don't know about it.
"The Spanish had an incredible influence on the Valley and the United States yet they've been written out of history," said Dr. Lino Garcia, Spanish literature professor and respected authority on Spanish/Texas. "Now with Latinos becoming a force politically and economically it is time to write what's wrong."
The conference - which attracted students students, educators and historians featured three revisionaries - Dr. Félix Almaraz of the University of Texas at San Antonio, Dr. Andrés Tijerina of Austin Community College and Dr. Harriet Joseph of the University of Texas at Brownsville. All three are authored scholars on the Spanish Texas subject.
"Ironically the history that was erased from Texas is the history that makes it great," Tijerina said. "What would Texas be like without cattle ranches, Longhorns, mustangs and great horsemen? All that we get from the Spanish."
Tijerina also reminded the crowd that the foods the pilgrims ate for their Thanksgiving, like corn and pumpkin came directly from Mexico.
"Texans are being robbed of the richness of their culture," he said.
Joseph, who wrote Notable Men and Women of Spanish Texas, a book profiling some prominent Spaniards - said the Spanish influence has also impacted our laws, in particular when it comes to women's rights.
"In the 1700s Anglo Saxon women didn't have any rights when it came to community property or laws. But a woman in Texas could sue," Joseph explained. "There are many documented cases of women fighting for their rights long before the women's movement."
All three revisionists encouraged Valley residents to become educated. Almaraz said it's the first but the most important step to making changes.
"You must be aware of your past. You must learn about Jose de Escandon, the Spaniard who settled this area. Look around at all the names of rivers and cities; behind every posted sign there is a Spanish story," Almaraz explained.
Garcia - who helped organize the conference - said this is only the beginning. He promises more conferences, discussions and eventually real changes in historical instruction at all levels.
"This conference today represents an ongoing effort to educate our people, not just Hispanics from the Valley, but people everywhere, of the contributions the Spanish and Mexicans have made to our great country," Garcia said.
The Spanish Texas Conference - the first to be held on campus - was co-sponsored by the UTPA Department of Modern Languages and the Center for Latin-American studies.