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Mexican Texans

Filed Under: 
Culture and the Arts
La Gran Fiesta in Fort Worth. Photo by Sharon Steinmann.

 

Texas without Mexicans would not be Texas.

This ethnic group, called Mexican-American, Chicano, Latino, Spanish, Tejano or Hispanic, depending on the political correctness of the time, is so essential to defining Texas culture that sometimes it is impossible to separate "Tex-Mex."

Rodeo, chili, barbecue, ranch, macho, fiesta, tacos: these are words, foods and events that now belong to all Texans.

But three annual events in Texas remain distinctively Mexican: Cinco de Mayo, Fiestas Patrias and Dia de los Muertos.

Although these observances originated in Mexico, the celebrations in Texas are more a statement of cultural roots than any political or patriotic statement.

If there is a common thread, it is a proud acknowledgement of "la raza," the concept of a unique group in history, born out of the discovery of the New World and the mixing of European and native tribal civilizations.

Cinco de Mayo, the Fifth of May, celebrates the rejection of the last attempt of Europeans to rule the Mexican nation. On this day in 1862, forces loyal to President Benito Juarez, an Indian, defeated the French at the Battle of Puebla. The victorious commander, Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza, was born at Goliad in coastal Texas in 1829.

Fiestas Patrias, Sept. 16, Mexican Independence Day (celebrations begin on Sept. 15), are the anniversary of the first move to end European dominance. In 1810 Father Miguel Hidalgo gave his famed grito, or cry, at Dolores for freedom from the Spanish colonial powers.

And, Dia de los Muertos (sometimes called Dias de los Muertos), Day of the Dead, is a counterpart to the All Saints-All Souls observances on the church calendar on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2, but with a special Mexican mix of pre-Columbian pagan homage to ancestors that is combined with Catholic ritual.

Goliad honors its native son, Gen. Zaragoza, and celebrates Cinco de Mayo with an annual fiesta on the weekend closest to Cinco de Mayo. The local Zaragoza Society coordinates the celebration, which includes Mexican food and music.

San Antonio devotes three days to the celebration of Cinco de Mayo. Fiestas Patrias is observed over three days around Sept. 16. Market Square in downtown San Antonio is the site of the city's celebrations. Dia de los Muertos is observed at San Fernando Cathedral each year with an altar of the dead and a procession of photographs of recently deceased civic leaders of the local community.

Alpine schedules an annual Cabrito Cookoff on a weekend for their Cinco de Mayo celebration.

Austin draws crowds in May to the grounds of Fiesta Gardens, where flamenco dancers and Tejano musicians provide entertainment. Fiestas Patrias in September involve more than two dozen concerts held during a six-day festivity. Dia de los Muertos is marked with a special parade down Congress Avenue with low-rider vehicles, skeleton-decorated floats and ceremonial altars. The procession draws as many as 5,000 people each year.

Dallas' Cinco de Mayo celebration usually includes a wreath-laying ceremony at the statue of Gen. Zaragoza in Jaycee Zaragoza Park in West Dallas. Various neighborhoods hold fiestas throughout the city.

Falfurrias holds its annual Cinco de Mayo celebrations each year at Lasater Park.

Fort Stockton has an annual observance the Saturday following the 5th of May.

Fort Worth marks Cinco de Mayo the last weekend of April.

Freeport celebrates Cinco de Mayo each May, while in September the Fiestas Patrias observance is sponsored by the local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

Grand Prairie in North Texas has a Cinco de Mayo art contest for area children. A parade, usually on the Saturday nearest May 5, starts at 14th and Main and includes the city's school bands, and ballet folklorico groups, as well as speeches and mariachi music.

In Southeast Texas, Fiestas Patrias is celebrated in Port Arthur on the second weekend of September. Called the Mexican Fiesta, it provides folkoric entertainment along with Mexican food and music.

Uvalde definitely mixes the two neighboring nations' destiny. The city opens Cinco de Mayo with the raising of the U.S. flag at the Jardin de los Heros (Garden of the Heros) Park. The cultural celebrations have been used as a fund raiser by the American Legion for more than 25 years.

— written by Robert Plocheck, associate editor, for the Texas Almanac 1996–1997.

 

SOURCES

The Skeleton at the Feast: The Day of the Dead in Mexico, by Elizabeth Carmichael and Chloi Sayer,  University of Texas Press, Austin, 1991.

Religions of Mesoamerica, by David Carrasco, Harper & Row, New York, 1990.

 

Texas Almanac

Texas Almanac