News / USA

Texas Celebrates Battle that Led to Independence from Mexico

Actors re-enact the Battle of San Jacinto just east of current-day Houston, Texas
Actors re-enact the Battle of San Jacinto just east of current-day Houston, Texas

Multimedia

Greg Flakus

One of the most consequential battles in North American history occurred 175 years ago on a field just east of current-day Houston, Texas.  In the battle of San Jacinto, on April 21, 1836, a ragtag Texas rebel army of about 900 men defeated some 1,500 Mexican soldiers and won independence.  This led to the Mexican-American War in which the United States acquired California and other southwestern states - leading to disputes over the expansion of slavery and ultimately to the U.S. Civil War.  The shots fired in 1836 reverberate across the southwestern United States today.

Telling the story through re-enactment takes longer than the battle itself.  In one of the biggest upsets in American history, the small Texas rebel force led by General Sam Houston swept over the Mexican camp in about 18 minutes.

The Mexicans had easily won every battle before this one and perhaps were undermined by their own self confidence.

After being captured, Mexican leader General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna ordered his troops to leave Texas.  He signed a document giving the territory its independence, something officials in Mexico said he had no right to do.

At this re-enactment, staged on the ground where it happened, near the San Jacinto monument, Hilario de la Pena, a Mexican-American from San Antonio, Texas, played the role of Santa Anna, who was sent to Texas to restore order.

De La Pena says he sympathizes with Mexico, but that he favors the side that won.

"Am I ambivalent?  No.  I am glad that Texas ultimately won.  I was born and raised in San Antonio and so I am glad the way things turned out," said De La Pena.

Many Mexicans still resent what they view as a land grab by the United States.  But some of the rebels, like the famed Juan Seguin, were Mexicans.  And De La Pena says their culture endures.

"You see the Spanish culture still ever, ever present in the entire southwest," noted De La Pena.  "And now Hispanic culture is throughout the country of the United States."

Hispanics are the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States and are likely to become the dominant culture here in Texas and in other southwestern states in the decades ahead.

Elizabeth Elizalde came to the re-enactment with her son Edgar.

"I am a true Texan at heart; I was born here, so we came to cheer for the Texan side," Elizalde said.  "But my parents, who are from Mexico, kind of tell history a little differently than what we learn here."

But she says Texas was separated from Mexico City by more than 1,000 kilometers of mountains and deserts.  So even if Santa Anna had won this battle, he would not have been able to maintain control of Texas.

"Maybe there would have been a different battle and they would have lost because Mexico was so far away from this land that they were not able to control it well," Elizalde added.

On the other side of the monument, in the area where most of the heavy fighting happened 175 years ago, High School teacher Scott Griffin shows a group of students around.

He grew up in this area and has studied the history all of his life.  He says he understands that some people gained and others lost here.

"From the Mexican standpoint today, if I put myself in their shoes, it would be hard to argue that it was not lost territory, something that was once theirs that was lost," said Griffin.

But Griffin notes that Mexico had very few settlers in what is now the U.S. southwest - including Texas - where warriors of the Apache, Comanche and other American Indian tribes held sway.

"Mexico could not get anyone to leave Mexico and come and live in this part of Texas during that time," Griffin explained.  "And that is why Santa Anna opened up immigration to [what is now] the United States."

Still some Hispanics in Texas trace their lineage back to that time and want to see all perspectives represented at the reenactment.

Jessica Torres, 16, wore a Mexico tee shirt for the event.

"It is pretty cool to see the Texas point of view and it would also be cool to see the Mexicans' point of view.  But I wore the shirt because it matches my pants," Torres said.

So, in the years ahead, the story of this battle will be told over and over again, with a new generation of Texans, made up of many races and cultures reexamining history.

Whatever perspectives might emerge, the fact is that because of this battle and the Mexican-American War that followed, the United States doubled in size, became a bi-coastal nation and an important power on the world stage.  And it all started here.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

US Urges Restraint in Hong Kong Protests

Protesters angered by Beijing's decision to only approve candidates that it sanctions for Hong Kong's leadership elections in 2017 More

Archive of Forgotten UCLA Speeches Offers Snapshot of History

Recordings of prominent voices in social change, politics, science and literature from 1960s, early 1970s now available on YouTube More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenyai
X
Gabe Joselow
September 29, 2014 6:20 PM
Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Video

Video Reconstruction? What Reconstruction? Life After War in Gaza

It’s been a month since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a ceasefire to end 52 days of an air and tank war that left 60,000 homes in Gaza damaged or destroyed and 110,000 homeless. Sharon Behn reports that lack of reconstruction is leading to despair.
Video

Video US, Saudi Arabia and UAE Hit Islamic State's Oil Revenue

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have bombed oil facilities operated by Islamic State militants in Syria. It was a truly collaborative effort, with the two Arab countries dropping the majority of the bombs. The 12 refineries targeted were estimated to generate as much as $2 million per day for the terrorist group. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has the story.
Video

Video Russia's Food Sanctions Raise Price Worries, Hopes for Domestic Production

Russia retaliated against Western sanctions imposed for its actions in Ukraine by halting food imports from the West. The temporary import ban on food from Australia, the European Union, Norway and North America has Russian consumers concerned that they could face a sharp increase in food prices. But in an ironic twist, the restrictions aimed at the Kremlin have made Russia's domestic food producers hopeful this can boost their business. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid