Mexican Roots Bind Families Who Settled Early In Texas

Jul 4, 2013
Originally published on July 5, 2013 5:19 pm

Unlike many places in America where Latinos are a relatively new minority group, Texas Hispanics were there before white Anglos. In some ways, having once been part of Mexico has lessened the tensions between whites and Latinos. But that's not always the case.

(For an extended version of this story, along with a gallery of images, visit KERA's website: Latino Roots Run Deeper In Texas.)

Copyright 2014 KERA Unlimited. To see more, visit http://www.kera.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And, of course, Mexicans were settling in Texas long before there was a State of Texas, when it was still part of Mexico.

Shelley Kofler, of member station KERA in Dallas, talked to three generations of more recent arrivals, about being Mexican American in the Lone Star State.

(SOUNDBITE OF VEHICLES)

SHELLEY KOFLER, BYLINE: On a busy street corner in the uptown area of Dallas, 60-year-old Sol Villasana sees more than the pricey condo developments and trendy shops.

SOL VILLASANA: I can still see the house here. It's now occupied by Uptown Self Storage.

KOFLER: It's the modest house where he grew up, and the neighborhood that was known as Little Mexico. It was where Villasana's grandfather and other immigrants settled in the early 1900s as they fled the Mexican Revolution. Their children and children's children remained, often working in the nearby slaughter houses and industrial plants.

VILLASANA: In this area, I felt very much like an insider. Almost all my friends at that time were Mexican-American kids like me.

KOFLER: But Villasana also recalls what it was like for Spanish-speaking kids in the '60s who ventured beyond the boundaries of Little Mexico.

VILLASANA: There were no Hispanic teachers or principals, or anything like that, and a real resistance to us speaking Spanish in school, being punished for speaking Spanish. I remember in my high school, senior year when college recruiters would be coming in, those counselors were telling the recruiters that there were no kids at my high school that were college material.

KOFLER: Villasana's recollections of childhood discrimination outside Little Mexico are not that different from his parents', who are both around 80. His mother, Rella Alvarez, is Anglo and was disowned by her family when she married Sol's Mexican-American father. His step-dad, Joe Alvarez, still remembers the teacher who destroyed his high school drawing project.

JOE ALVAREZ: He'd look at the white guys' drawings and he would tell them what was wrong and what was right and how to fix it and everything. He said: (makes spitting sound).

KOFLER: He spit on your drawings?

ALVAREZ: He spit on my drawings and rubbed it in.

KOFLER: Clearly, the scars from a half century ago haven't completely healed. Rella and Joe Alvarez still don't vote.

ALVAREZ: To me, I think some of them are rigged.

KOFLER: But as everyone in this family agrees, the passing decades have brought acceptance and opportunities beyond Little Mexico. Sol became a successful lawyer. He and his parents now live in the upscale suburb of Rockwall. Throughout Dallas, parks, streets and schools bear the names, Hernandez, Chavez and Tamayo. In fact, 26-year old Alejandro Martinez, a third generation of the family, says he's never felt discriminated against. But in his job as a city prosecutor, Martinez does see what it must have been like for his parents and grandparents.

ALEJANDRO MARTINEZ: I can tell that I'm sympathetic, almost, to people who come in here and are from Mexico and, you know, they maybe don't have a driver's license. You know, you're not allowed to get a driver's license unless you're a citizen. And then I was raised by my dad, you know, always tying back to my roots and to remember where I came from.

KOFLER: It's those Mexican roots that seem to bind families who've been here for more than a century, to those who've recently arrived.

In a new Little Mexico, not far from Villasana's suburban home, a woman named Maria cleans houses. She says employers cheated her out of money because she's undocumented and scared to complain.

MARIA: (through translator) The people who had papers would make us work a lot more for less money. We had to do it because if we didn't do it then they would threaten us that they would call INS or deport us.

KOFLER: Sol Villasana believes Maria's opportunities - the opportunities he had - will come when a Hispanic majority elects Hispanics more sympathetic to immigrants and their problems. But for that to happen, many more Latinos like Rella and Joe Alvarez will have to decide it's worth their while to vote. For NPR News, I'm Shelley Kofler in Dallas.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: And you can hear the last story in our Texas 20-20 series later this afternoon on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.