Panelists discuss Tejano history in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month

Forrest Milburn

Following a Mariachi performance detailing Mexican and Texas history on Thursday, five panelists discussed the significance of Mexican-Americans and Tejanos on the development of Texas.

Andrés Tijerina, an Austin Community College history professor, said that although Tejanos have tremendously impacted Texas’ culture and economy, their historical significance has been silenced in favor of the memories of the Alamo, Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin.

“It’s the Mexican, it’s the Tejano that makes Texas unique,” Tijerina said. “Everything we brag about in Texas – the longhorns, the mustangs, the mavericks, the herds, the cattle trails – everything is Mexican, but it’s been silenced.”

The panel of professors and community leaders met in the Gordon-White Building as the fourth event celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month sponsored by the Center for Mexican Studies.

“I think part of what we’ve heard here today is the idea of making history,” associate journalism professor and panelist Maggie Riveras-Rodriguez said. “When I got to UT a million years ago as a student, I felt like I was in a candy store because there were Tejano studies classes. Because that history had been so hidden from my view, I didn’t know anything about it.”

Other panelists, including history professor Emilio Zamora, discussed the lack of Tejano and Mexican-American history in the public school system as a major problem affecting the community.

“We want these children to understand that their heritage is a source of pride,” Zamora said. “We’re not just doing things to increase the number of voters to vote their interests and their conscience. In the process of doing that, we are affirming values
among ourselves.”

History graduate student Maria Hammack said she thought the panelists have fought hard to embed Tejano culture within established institutions.

“When they were in college, [Tejano history courses] did not exist,” Hammack said. “You have to sort of break through the doors, and I think they have done a very good job for us to be able to take classes in Tejano history when before they were not available.”

Rivas-Rodriguez said she thinks Tejanos and Mexican-Americans have come a long way and have reached a point where they can look back and reflect on all of their accomplishments.

“With all of us together, collectively, we can move up that mountain,” Rivas-Rodriguez said. “We can get to the top of the top and we can say ‘Okay, this is what we’ve been able to accomplish.’”