Mexican-Americans Seek Their Place in History

Roundup: Talking About History

Diane Smith, in the Star-Telegram (May 5, 2004):

Henry Martinez trudged up a slope to his ancestors' resting place, balancing himself with a cane as he carried a Braum's paper bag filled with his family's history.

This place -- El Camposanto de Cemento Grande de la Compania Trinity Portland, or the Trinity Portland Cement Plant Cemetery, in west Dallas -- is his passion. The tiny park has about 200 graves, including those of his mother, sister and two brothers -- one of whom was a World War II soldier.

"It's sacred ground," said Martinez, 75. He removed photographs and documents from the bag and told stories about relatives who immigrated to Texas from Guanajuato during the Mexican Revolution.

"I just couldn't help but try and preserve the cemetery," he said.

Filling in the missing chapters of the Mexican-American experience is a race against time as waves of immigrants from the early 1900s age. Many projects rely on oral histories. Some, like Martinez's cemetery care, are small gestures, while others are sophisticated, such as a new series by the University of North Texas Press that aims to document Mexican-American history and culture.

Such efforts take on particular poignancy during Hispanic holidays such as today's Cinco de Mayo. But they are lifelong projects for those who believe that Mexican-American history isn't fully explored in textbooks.

"It's very important to have a sense of heritage," said Ivette Ray, a graduate student in the University of North Texas' applied history program.

Unraveling history

Mexican immigrants have left an imprint on North Texas even as new waves move here, historians say. Their past hasn't been fully explored: A historical account of Fort Worth's Mexican families wasn't published until last year.

Stories from the Barrio: A History of Mexican Fort Worth by Carlos Cuellar documents Mexican families in the city. The work was published by Texas Christian University Press.

"When you go to the Stockyards, the Mexican presence is all around you. They didn't just appear overnight," said Ray, who is studying Fort Worth's Hispanic community.

Ray is also interested in studying the Mexican-American civil rights movement. She said she recently hit the historical jackpot when she found documents in Austin referring to the work of the Fort Worth Mexican American Youth Organization -- a group that sought equality in the schools during the 1970s.

But unraveling some aspects of Mexican-American history is like trying to solve a mystery without enough clues. Artifacts, letters, photographs, government documents, pay stubs and even poll-tax receipts help illustrate the past. Details may be locked away in a trunk. Or they may be as simple as a grandmother's quilt.

Some old-timers with key details may not know whom to share them with, Ray said.

"All that is history. It's not just the family's treasure; it's the community's treasure," she said.

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alexander m troup - 9/23/2009

We had made a 14 month recording of deaths from the county index on the Cement City West Dallas area dating from 1850s to 1930s and found numerous death and burials for Hispanic and other multicutural Immigrants who came to the area and created a book that had not been edited for this and Research Associates