Sunday, June 1, 2008

Juan Cortina (1824-1892)

For me a hero is someone who fights for a cause, not someone who wins. I think Juan Cortina is an example of someone who has been dismissed as a troublemaker, not because of anything he did wrong, but because he was deemed to be on the loosing side. This history needs to be taught to our children. BISD needs to name a school after his mother. For a well reasoned argument on this issue see.

I hope the BISD Board can see the merit in Montoya's argument and do as he asks, not because Montoya is asking, but because he is right and this is a history which must be taught to our children. On Monday I will pick up on this theme and how it relates to modern day politics.

The entire following history is a copy and past from:

Best remembered for his capture of Brownsville, Texas, in 1859, Juan Cortina's life has been enshrined in Mexican-American popular culture as a symbol of militant resistance to Anglo racism.

Cortina was born at Camargo, Tamaupilas (Mexico), just south of the Rio Grande, into a wealthy cattle-ranching family. In order to take over the management of some of his mother's many lands, sometime in the 1840's he moved north of the river into territory claimed by both Texas and Mexico. By the late 1850's, after the United States had annexed all lands north of the Rio Grande, Cortina had become an important political boss for the South Texas Democratic Party, and though the United States had invalidated many of his land claims, he still remained a large rancher.

On July 13, 1859, in Brownsville, Cortina witnessed an Anglo city marshal pistol-whipping one of his former family employees. Outraged, Cortina demanded that the marshal stop abusing the Mexican, and when the marshal refused, Cortina shot him in the shoulder, took his former servant up onto his horse, and fled with him to safety. With this classic blow struck for social justice, Cortina's career as a legend and an outlaw had begun.

Two months later, on September 28, Cortina led an armed force back into Brownsville, released Mexicans whom he felt had been unfairly imprisoned, and executed four Anglos who had killed Mexicans but hadn't been punished. Here he proclaimed the Republic of the Rio Grande as his followers raised the Mexican flag and shouted, "Death to the gringos!" But Cortina did not pillage or terrorize the city. Instead, he soon withdrew to a nearby ranch, where he issued a proclamation invoking the "sacred right of self-preservation" and condemning the fact that so many were "prosecut[ed] and rob[bed] for no other cause than that of being of Mexican origin."

The six months following the Brownsville raid have been called "Cortina's War." The Texas Rangers struck back furiously, often indiscriminately punishing any Hispanic in the south Rio Grande Valley. Cortina, who soon had five or six hundred armed men under his command, resumed his raids when the Rangers executed one of his lieutenants in Brownsville. The Mexican government, fearing that Cortina's actions would embroil them in another war with the United States, sent a joint Mexican-Anglo force against Cortina, which he quickly defeated.

Although some elite Mexican residents of Texas opposed Cortina and quietly aided his opponents, the bulk of the tejano population supported him, often sending his troops supplies and refusing to help U.S. officials. But this support proved to be no match for the U.S. Army, which dealt Cortina a sharp defeat in Rio Grande City on December 27, 1859. Sporadic raiding and fighting continued for several months; observers reported settlements deserted, property destroyed and normal business activities cancelled along the 100-mile stretch of the border from Brownsville to Rio Grande City.

Forced to dissolve his army and retreat to Mexico, Cortina continued his military activities there, fighting with Benito Juarez and other Mexican nationalists against French intervention in the 1860s, and aiding Union partisans in Texas during the American Civil War. In 1863 he was made a general in the Mexican Army, and later became the acting governor of Tamaupilas. In 1876, Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz imprisoned Cortina in Mexico City, where he was held until 1890. He died in Tamaupilas in 1892.

Cortina's life is indicative of important transformations that took place in the South Texas-North Tamaupilas region after 1850. Unlike Mexicans in California or farther east in Texas, people of Mexican descent in this region continued to enjoy a vast numerical superiority over Anglos. To some degree, encroaching Anglo elites had to adapt themselves to continuing tejano political and economic power; for example, many chose to marry into prominent tejano families. And when challenged by Cortina's uprising, Anglo officials could protect themselves only by calling in powerful outside forces like the U.S. Army.

Cortina's career also reveals the importance which tejanos continued to attach to Mexico and political trends south of the border. Like Juan Seguin at the time of the Texas War for Independence and Mariano Vallejo in California, Cortina pursued a course in the United States that in some ways grew out of his support for reform efforts in Mexico.

Popular mythology has carved out a large place for Juan Cortina. Anglos have generally treated him as a bandit and their legends have dissociated his actions from the larger context of U.S. conquest and Anglo encroachment. Mexican-American folklore, on the other hand, stresses the connections between Cortina's exploits and this broader context; to many, Cortina is still known as the "Robin Hood of the Rio Grande."


Anonymous said...

So I guess you would not support naming a school after one of my ancestors, John S. "Rip" Ford.

BobbyWC said...

BB, you know me better than that - I go based on facts - I will support naming a school after anyone who has contributed to the social justice of the LRGV or the development of the LRGV - I do not care who they are.

I also support removing the names of every living person from every school - this would open the door to renaming the schools after true historical figures

So tell us about your ancestor and let's see if he merits a place in the history of social justice or economic development then I say he shoulc be recognized.

You know my dad was a major figure in union organizing in Brownsville in the 40's - I have several articles on his work in Brownsville - I would never consider him someone you would name a school after - for me there has to be something more than being a community activist - you have to leave a mark - I think the Cortina family fits that discription.

Bobby WC

BobbyWC said...

The following information does not tell me enough about Rip Ford to have an opinion. He certainly should be taught as part of the Texas history.

This may shock you, but I believe the United States was the bad guy in the war against the Confederate States -

The right of secession is absolute - Jefferson made this clear in the Declaration of Independence - does this mean I support the politics of the south? NO - but that is not the issue - the issue was and remains the absolute right of secession

Now did I surprise you there?

Bobby WC

Anonymous said...

Mr. BB and BWC,

From my understanding of Cortina, isn't he an ancestor of the Zavaleta's? Boy, you Cowens and Zavaletas sure have argued a long time? *snicker*

I have a solution for the naming of the new high school though.

It would show true solidarity. It would be monumental. It would show true binaitionalism or biculturalism. And my personal favorite argument, it would unite Anglos and Chicanos!

Name it Cortina-Ford High School. It worked for the federal courthouse! Play both sides, no?

Oh, and name the new elementary after Pullam. You see, everyone wins!


Anonymous said...

I wasn't serious about naming a school for Rip Ford. I only named him because he headed up a Texas Ranger contingent that fought against Cortina. While he had an interesting life, and should be judged in the context of his times and the then-existing culture, naming a Brownsville school after him would be as inappropriate as naming a predominately African-American school after Jefferson Davis.

Anonymous said...

Name it after our most positive present day role models...Omar Lucio or Gus Reyna.

These gentlemen have done more for our community than all others combined.

Look at the surrounding situations in other communities and look at our situation... they have kept us safe, and will do so for years to come.

Anonymous said...

Mr. BB,

Was Mr. Ford really that bad?

I only used the Garza-Vela courthouse because it is a travesty that the name of the building not be given to solely Reynaldo Garza, a man who more historically worthy of the courthouse than Judge Vela.

Vela was a good man, but first Hispanic federal judge he is not.

Maybe the old courthouse should be named after one of them and the new the other. That would have been a fair compromise. Anyway, one is obviously more worthy as in the case of Cortina. But to use the same political correct or expedient solution, I came up with the same concept with your ancestor and that of your former law partner.

I was half-kidding with that amicable solution. Seriously, was Rip that bad to compare him to the Confederate Presient and former Secretary of War during the 1850s?


Anonymous said...

Why don't we name one of the new schools "Veterans Memorial" in honor of all the men and women who have served this country proudly.

El Coyote

Anonymous said...

Why don't we name one of the new schools "Veterans Memorial" in honor of all the men and women who have served this country proudly.

El Coyote