The college president prepares for a vote at College Council July 14.
By Sergio Medina
“O bury me not on the lone praire-ee (sic), where the wild coyotes will howl o’er me! In a narrow grave just six by three, where all the Mexkins ought to be-ee!”
This was a Texas Ranger patrol song from the early 20th century as found in author David Montejano’s “Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986.“
The racist chant was provided by Dr. Sonia Hernandez, history Professor and Coordinator of Latino and Mexican American Studies at Texas A&M University, College Station.
The debate around the existence of this college’s mascot, currently the Ranger Gnome, approaches a close with a July 14 College Council meeting that will decide its future.
A uniform agreement to remove the mascot came from the three governing bodies of the college — Faculty Senate, Staff Senate and the Student Government Association, prompting President Robert Vela to take the matter to a vote during the next College Council meeting July 14.
“When something is going to impact the college, that’s where the decisions are going to be made, at College Council,” Vela said in a telephone interview June 27.
Student and community feedback can be submitted for consideration during the council meeting here.
The deadline for submission is 5 p.m. July 8.
“Names of us, even names of individuals, names of places, names of a mascot — names have a history,” Hernandez said in a June 25 phone interview.
To understand the debate around the mascot, one must understand the history associated with the Texas Rangers.
This is as reported in a 1918 issue of the El Paso Morning Times:
“According to the report received at the Mexican General Consulate here (sic), an armed and mounted posse of civilians rode to the little river settlement of El Porvenir at 2 o’clock in the morning of Jan. 13 and started a systematic search of the houses where Mexican laborers lived. Men were dragged from their beds, and without having been given time to dress, were led away in their night clothes to the edge of the settlement, where they were shot to death by the posse.”
This is known as the Porvenir massacre, where 15 people, ages 16 to 72, were shot to death by Texas Rangers, who had suspected the individuals to have been part of a ranch raid. The El Paso Times reported there was no evidence tying the victims to the crime.
“There’s plenty of evidence that can help us make the case to not name mascots or teams after the Rangers,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez also is one of the founders of Refusing to Forget, a non-profit organization that provides educational resources about violence in Texas toward Latinos in the early 20th century.
The website reads that while scholars don’t agree on the exact number of victims, the estimate is that several hundreds to as many as 5,000 mostly Mexican-Americans were killed because of racial violence during 1910-20 in Texas.
Refusing to Forget maintains that racism rooted itself systematically into the agency more than a century ago.
Hernandez said it didn’t occur overnight, as if the Mexican Revolution broke out in 1910, and the Rangers suddenly decided to turn their back on the Mexican community.
“No, it was a gradual process, and really happens in the years leading up to the Mexican Revolution.”
That was a period when white migrants from the Midwest moved into the South Texas region, with the promise of finding rich farmlands and cheap labor from Mexican immigrants, who were coming to “perform the labor in the fields — picking cotton, picking crops, (and) picking the citrus.
“And so as more and more Anglo-Americans moved to the area, they also brought with them ideas of racial superiority — very different from the earlier Anglo-Americans who had moved to the area after 1848, after the border was drawn between the U.S. and Mexico.”
Those early communities, while not perfect, demonstrated some racial cooperation with interracial marriages, as an example, Hernandez said.
However, Anglo-American migrants coming into Texas at the eve of the Mexican Revolution “knew very little about Mexican-American and Mexican culture and traditions, knew very little about the educational system of Mexicanos — they didn’t know the language, and many of them did not care,” Hernandez continued.
This caused cultural clashes.
And then the Mexican Revolution broke out. And while Hernandez said it would be inaccurate to say there was no spillover from the violence south of the border, generalization by authorities became a problem.
“It got to the point where authorities began to call anybody who looked like a Mexicano, you know, they labeled them a suspected bandit.”
That racist history is not exclusive to that time period. It was pervasive.
“In the ’60s and early ’70s, gosh, even as late as the mid-’70s, many Texas Rangers were used to quash, to stop, to halt the farm worker movement,” Hernandez said. “So their task wasn’t necessarily to keep protecting communities. They were, you know, sent by the governor to intervene in peaceful labor demonstrations.”
This is an excerpt from “Mexican Americans and the Administration of Justice in the Southwest” by the United States Commission on Civil Rights in 1970:
“Jose Martinez, a farm worker from Pharr, Texas, who testified at the Commission’s San Antonio hearing, was asked to characterize the feeling of Mexican Americans toward the Rangers. He replied: ‘Many people hate them, many people are afraid. . . . (sic) They will be hit or kicked.’”
The time period in question was 1966-67, when the United Farm Workers Organization Committee was organizing Mexican-American farm workers. The report continues with the commission’s findings, which were that the union organizers had found physical and verbal harassment by the Texas Rangers.
Dr. Monica Martinez, American studies professor at Brown University, said June 26 in a telephone interview, that by studying the documentation of racial and protest suppression, one can see how it has become ingrained in the policing system.
“It’s a trend that police have been used — whether they’re local police or the Texas Rangers — have been used to suppress civil right efforts.”
Martinez and Hernandez are co-founders of Mapping Violence, an online educational resource that keeps track of racial violence in the early 20th century.
The “regime of terror” practiced a century ago on the Texas-Mexico border is crucial to ongoing conversations about police brutality, immigration, and the carceral state, Martinez said.
Martinez said that the use of policing, particularly in the South, was to maintain a racial hierarchy upon African-Americans and labor. In Texas, that extended to Mexican-Americans.
“The police, in the way that they function historically, was to maintain that social division,” Martinez added.
With that history in mind, the term “Ranger” echoes injustices of the past that have survived in the system.
The agency accepted its first African-American Ranger in 1988.
Hernandez said, “For many, it’s very hurtful. It’s hateful and it’s very hurtful.
“It is very difficult to separate, to divorce the name itself with the history associated with that name.
“It’s a disservice to the kind of state that we want to be,” Hernandez added.
Philosophy Professor Amy Whitworth agrees that words, unless new, have history.
“When one chooses a word to represent a student body, we should do so in such a way that we try to avoid anything that is harmful or doesn’t acknowledge the whole humanity of all of the human beings participating in the college,” she said in an interview June 28.
Whitworth said changes must be made according to new information received.
“Learning history is invaluable. We learn about ourselves and who we are in the present in part by understanding where we came from.
“One of the issues that has really been raised is to ensure that the history that we’re actually learning is complete,” she said.
Whitworth said she would change the mascot in accordance to how the community feels.
“A mascot should inspire and enhance how we live in the world,” she said.
Vela said that the documented racist history of the Rangers is a valid reason to remove the mascot.
“When we’re taking systemic racism or structured racism very, very seriously, it’s important that we look at every fabric of who we are as an institution.”
He said it’s important to not associate this college with that racist past.
“We want to be sure that this college is open to all students from all walks of life, all backgrounds; it’s important every student feels invited, that this is going to be their new home as they pursue their education and their career goals,” Vela said. “That is our mission.”
The counter-argument he sees is that because the mascot has been in place for 94 years, it means removing history that has been part of this college.
“And I’ve heard the argument: Why not learn from that piece of history and figure out ways to avoid it?” he said.
He said another part of the opposing argument is that the Rangers’ past is not a reflection of what they currently do, which is acting as crime investigators, particularly cases involving personnel of other Texas law enforcement agencies.
“What they do is some honorable work.”
Vela said the discussions with students and faculty over the course of the last year and a half advocating for the removal of the mascot are what led to the consideration that a decision must be made soon.
The intent was to have open forums over the course of spring semester, but the surge of the Covid-19 pandemic put a hold on those plans. As a result, Vela met online in early June with members from Somos la Gente — the faculty and student group advocating for the mascot’s removal, as well as members from Faculty and Staff Senate to discuss the matter.
“It was a lot more comprehensive and (a) more diverse audience and participants than I had ever seen before,” Vela said.
A follow-up story will be written about the stances on the mascot from Faculty Senate, Staff Senate, the Student Government Association and Somos la Gente, as not all groups were available for comment at the time of publication.
Vela chose to remain neutral on the discussion to remove the mascot, opting instead to be open to what the college community needs.
“For me, it’s about listening to what the college wants, right?” he said. “But personally, if we’re serious about eliminating systemic racism, then everything needs to be on the table — we need to look at it; we need to have a discussion about it.
“If this brings pain and fear to a certain segment of our student population, then it’s my role and my job to do what I need to do — to listen to that, and at some point, potentially, eliminate that.”
The Texas Rangers has never admitted to the racial bias nor apologized for the systemic abuse.
Martinez said, “What history teaches us is that if we don’t stop the injustices that are taking place, the injustices are going to continue to impact generations to come. We have to learn.
“Cultural institutions, educational institutions — it’s our responsibility not only to teaching their students but to serving the broader public.”
It is the responsibility of educational institutions to talk about social injustices of the past and present, she continued.
“I think this is a great opportunity for San Antonio College to show they have leadership to have difficult conversations, and say that, as an institution, we’re going to be on the side of social justice, be part of a democracy that is inclusive, and that is actually available to everyone.”
Hernandez said educational institutions, especially public ones, should be models to emulate for the communities around them.
“There’s so much scholarship on this topic that it is just ridiculous if institutions ignore it and want to sweep it under the rug,” she said.
As the constituency of the college, students’ voices are the priority, she said.
“That’s the face of this new generation. You’ve got to listen to them.”