A professor outlines the contributions of indigenous people before Spaniards arrived.
By Janie Medelez
In celebration of San Antonio’s Tricentennial, it is important to recognize the contribution made by indigenous people and other people here before the Spaniards, Dr. Lisa Ramos, Mexican-American studies coordinator, said to about 38 students Nov. 6 at the Wesley Foundation.
“American Indians did not disappear; they are not extinct; they are here,” Ramos said. “Many of us look in the mirror, and there’s the evidence.”
“I notice all the buildup of the tricentennial and I just want to make sure that in celebrating the 300th anniversary of the Spanish presence that we recognize that there were other people here before the Spaniards’ representatives of the Spanish Empire,” Ramos said Nov. 7 in a phone interview.
“People tend to think of the defeat of Montezuma, the Mesheeka ruler of the Aztec empire, by Hernan Cortez as indigenous people giving up, submitting to the Spaniards, as the end of indigenous people, but that’s not true,” Ramos said.
They were not easily defeated by the Spaniards, indigenous people continued to fight long after Cortez conquered Montezuma and the Aztec empire.
Different indigenous people kept fighting after the Aztecs were conquered in 1521. She said they fought in the Pan India Mixtón War 1540-1541 and the Chichimeca War going on till 1590, and they were said to have lived as far north as South Texas.
“It was within the Spanish communities where the Spaniards had established missions, presidio, small pueblos all the way up to Missouri and the Carolinas with a strong Spanish presence,” she said.
She explained the importance of remembering the communities existed because of the indigenous people. They were the ones sustaining and protecting the forts, building the missions, doing all the heavy labor. They were actually building, constructing the sites where they were going to live, where the missionaries were going to live and they were going to maintain those cities.
Besides the emphasis of the indigenous people running the so-called Spanish communities, their largest contribution is food, according to the website of the department of agriculture at usda.gov.
Sixty percent of the foods are of indigenous origins, such as potatoes, squash, beans, corn, popcorn and chocolate. Even products such as tobacco, canoes, cigars and rubber came from indigenous people who do not get credit for them.
“People tend to focus on European contributions,” Ramos said.
The American indigenous people used over 2, 654 plants for healing and medicinal purposes.
“They were doctors and healers, but we often don’t know this vast knowledge that they had,” she said.
She talked about the writings of Father Solis who traveled to the missions in San Antonio in 1767 and his description of the Indians taking charge of the ranch.
She said they were the cowboys taking care of the ranch, carpenters and tailors who were creating and building the San Antonio that exists today.
“The native Indians were the first cowboys, not the Spanish. They were indigenous. They were the Coahuiltecan Indians,” she said, attributing that view to Ramon Vazquez, the executive director of the American Indian of Texas the Spanish Colonial Mission.
She talked about the Chicano movement when students were questioning the fact that textbooks did not mention contributions made by a Mexican person.
They wanted teachers who looked like them, counselors who would encourage them to continue their education and go to college, she said.
“Today there are organizations that are trying to bring back the indigenous. These organizations want to teach us about people of Mexican descent, of indigenous descent, who should not be ashamed to be Native American, to be Coahuiltecan Indian,” Ramos said.
People have a responsibility to recognize the indigenous heritage, Chicano history is American history, and starts with the indigenous people, she said.
“The Spanish Empire sent representatives here to establish permanent Spanish presence, so we’re saying that is the founding moment, and it’s not,” she said. “If we want to talk about the founding moment, let’s go back 15,000 years ago, when we can establish based on archaeological records that there were people here. And if we really want to celebrate founders, let’s recognize that we’re actually older than 300 years old,” Ramos said in a phone interview.