The Founding of the Tejano Association for Historical Preservation

By Rolando M. Romo, Founder and President, 1989-1993

 

The idea for the Tejano Association for Historical Preservation was born on April 21, 1989 at the San Jacinto Battlegrounds on the 153rd anniversary of the battle.

The ceremonies that take place there on that day, were at that time, still being given with the concept of "them" versus "us." I went there late, after work, to hear what "they" had to say about "us." Unfortunately, I arrived after all of the speeches had been given and only remnants of the crowd were still left wandering around.

I visited the chained-off area that had the tombstones of the Zavala family. Lorenzo de Zavala, was at one time a high ranking official of the Mexican government under Santa Ana. He was the ambassador to France at the time that Santa Ana abolished the Mexican constitution of 1824 and basically made himself the dictator of Mexico. De Zavala was a strong proponent of democracy and was an advocate for the poor and the landless people of Mexico. He wrote a scathing letter to Santa Ana that condemned him for his actions that ended Mexico's efforts at democracy. Zavala had always been a great admirer of the democratic form of government exemplified by the United States. He had worked long and hard for establishing a similar form of government for the Republic of Mexico. He now left France to seek political and personal refuge in Texas, as he was now a sworn enemy of Santa Ana and could expect that Santa Ana would make some attempt to end his life. This was a common practice for sworn political enemies.

De Zavala, had hoped to organize resistance to Santa Ana while in Texas. He was swept up in the politics of the Texans and realized that his only choice was to join the Texans and help them form an independent government. He purchased a homestead at the convergence of the San Jacinto and the Buffalo Bayou. His governmental experience in Mexico was widely recognized and he became the Vice President of the interim government of the Republic of Texas. He later was responsible for designing the first official lone star flag of the republic. It was a blue field with a white star with the word "Texas" inscribed around the corners of the star.

Santa Ana, after his victory at the Alamo, attempted to capture De Zavala, by camping his troops on the opposite bank of the Buffalo Bayou, in what is called San Jacinto. De Zavala had wisely moved his family to safety by transporting them to Galveston. Across the bayou from his homestead, history was to turn on Santa Ana's fortunes and his loss would insure the independence of the newly declared republic.

 

 

As I stood facing the tombstones of Zavala's family and neighbors, I overheard an individual say, "it's a shame what happened to their graves." I was struck by curiosity and found myself asking, "what do you mean what happened to them, aren't they buried here?"

"No, they were originally buried on Zavala's land across the bayou and the Houston Ship Channel's long use and wave action eroded most of that bank and the graves were washed away and only their tombstones were saved and brought across to the battlefield," came the answer. I was completely stunned and angered at the news. How could a hero of the Texas revolution have met such an ignoble fate? I thought to myself, would this have been allowed to happen if this were the grave-site of Crockett or Austin? The individual offered to take me across the ferry and right onto what had been Zavala's land and show me the exact spot where the cemetery had been. Being the curious sort, I readily agreed. I found myself seeing the remnants of a wired fence that was one foot from the bank's edge. I was shown the original site where once the house of Zavala had stood. It was all commercially developed. The only reminder of Zavala's existence was a flagpole with a marker that attributed this land as once being his home. The Zavala cemetery had been under the care and supervision of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

I resolved that the only thing that could make a difference in preserving buildings and sites that were historically or archaeologically important to the Mexican American community was to have an organization that specifically dealt with their preservation. I felt that an organization was needed to do the following:

1. Preserve buildings and sites that were historically/archaeologically important to Mexican Americans 2. Educate the public on the local and national history of Mexican Americans that had made a significant contribution to their respective community and 3. To establish an education center that would provide historical exhibits and research materials for historical topics relevant to the Mexican and Mexican American community. I got on the phone and talked to numerous political and community leaders about the need to develop such an organization. I got many responses of, "this is a great idea, we definitely need such an organization and good luck." The realization came to me that if this organization was going to be founded, it was going to be because of my own personal efforts. I resolved to found such an organization regardless of the time and money involved.

The original meetings of the organization took place at the Houston Public Library's Clayton Genealogical Library, in the original structure of the genealogical collection, a two-storied red brick structure. When this building was closed to the public for repairs, the meetings were moved to the Carnegie Branch Library, in the Hispanic Northside.

 

 

Key and instrumental officers/members to the young organization were Mr. Alfonso Vasquez, Dr. Thomas H. Kreneck and Dr. Margaret Swett Henson. Mr. Vasquez has been a professional photographer and has photographed and documented a large portion of the Mexican American's political and social history of Houston in the 60's to the 80's. Dr. Thomas H. Kreneck, formerly the assistant manager of the Houston Public Library's archives and now the Director of Libraries at Texas A & M University at Corpus Christi also played a strong and supportive role. Dr. Margaret S. Henson, a renown author of numerous Texas history books and the past president of the Texas State Historical Association extended her support and prestige to the success of the young organization.

The first "positive" state historical marker involving Mexican Americans in Harris County was erected at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church by TAHP. Mr. Alfonso Vasquez, was the committee chair for this marker effort and it was erected on December 12, 1990. The organization has been instrumental in working towards the naming of public schools for Mexican Americans. TAHP members have been involved in citizen committees that were successful in naming Mario Gallegos Elementary School and Cesar Chavez High School.

Footnotes:

Lorenzo de Zavala, Jr. was aide-de-camp for General Sam Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto and served as the initial interpreter between Houston and Santa Ana after the battle.

General Castrillon, a highly respected general under Santa Ana's command, died bravely while standing his ground as Texans charged into the Mexican camp at San Jacinto. He and his family were old and good friends of the Zavala family. Zavala saw that General Castrillon was given a Christian burial on his land and his body was the first to be buried in the Zavala cemetery.

In later years, besides Zavala family members and neighbors, several distinguished governmental leaders of the Texas Republic were laid to rest in the Zavala cemetery.