“Now that the story of Hispanics at Texas A&M University has found its proper place in the institution’s history, the biggest challenge is keeping it alive.”
- The Hispanic Exhibit Advisory Committee

 

“With !Siempre! we seek to offer images that are representative of the long history and contributions of Hispanics at Texas A&M.   And as changing demographics point out, Hispanics will have an important role at Texas A&M for decades to come.”  
- Miguel Juárez, Assistant Professor,
Curator, Hispanic/Latinos Studies Collections

 

Introduction

The rich and varied history of Hispanics at Texas A&M is like an epic film, presented against the canvas of Texas, U.S., world, and migration histories.  It encompasses a panorama of historical events, and includes thousands of individuals.  It is tied to the many personal and family histories and social groups that have been a part of the development of one of this country’s major educational institutions.  The presence of Hispanics at Texas A&M is also tied to the regional labor history, immigration history, the history of agriculture and engineering, the history of military training in the United States and the history of Hispanics in higher education. 

Three distinct groups comprise the history of Hispanics at Texas A&M: students and alumni, professionals (faculty, staff and administrators) and blue-collar workers (laborers, custodians, food and service workers).   For “!Siempre!, Hispanics at Texas A&M:  Celebrating 130 Years,” we have chosen to document the presence and contributions of all these groups, their intersections and points of divergence. 

Following on the successes of previous exhibits the “African Americans at Texas A&M,” and “Intended for All: 125 Years of Women at Texas A&M,” presented at the Cushing Memorial Library and Archives at Texas A&M University, we sought to compile materials and photographs that represent the Hispanic experience at Texas A&M—there was only one problem—very little had been collected on the Hispanic presence at the institution from its inception.  Why did this happen?  These questions, are perhaps some of the best cultural, social and political detective stories of the last century.  Why are the materials of certain ethnic groups collected and others not?  Who decides why a certain cultural group’s “cultural record” is important to collect?  Who collects it?  What responsibilities do institutions have to collect the cultural records of ethnic communities that work there, who go to school there, who have physically built their institutions, but whose histories have been overlooked?

Cushing Memorial Library, was charged with telling the story of Hispanics at Texas A& M.  The attendance of early Aggies from prominent families mirrored the history of Mexican and Latin American aristocracy.  In the late 1800’s and the early 1900’s, the Hispanics that did make it in the yearbooks and newspapers were the sons of elite Hispanics from Latin America, México and the Borderlands, but the food workers who worked in the mess halls and laborers and who actually built the university brick-by-brick, were not prominently featured.   We researched Hispanics in our biographic files in what we refer to as our “bio files,” where newspaper clippings of notable Aggies in the news are collected, kept alphabetically and become part of the archives, but there were few materials on Hispanics up to the 1960’s.  For the modern era, after 1960 (when the university admitted women and African-Americans), there is more material. 

Further, the Mexican labor pool that was employed in the early history of the university is credited to Bernard Sbisa, who was an émigré from Czechoslovakia.  Sbisa hired Mexican employees to work in Subsistence department (food services) beginning in 1868.  Sbisa’s employment of Mexicans correlates with the period known as the era of the Enganche--1884-1929, during a time when U.S. employers turned to private labor contractors, who employed a variety of coercive measures to recruit Mexican laborers and deliver them to jobs north of the border.   Sbisa brought many single Mexican men to work in the food service to A&M, but they didn’t remain.   Other Mexican families settled in the Brazos Valley, like Manuel Rodriguez and his family, who settled in Bryan, Texas, in 1889.  Even then, there were long-time Mexican families in the region.  Joaquin “Jack” Hernández’s grand father, was born in 1880 in Caldwell, Texas, 22 miles from College Station.  He worked for the railroad cutting timber for steam engines.  Hernández’s mother was born there in 1911, one of aunts was born in 1848.

Another challenge to gathering the history of Hispanics at Texas A&M was few historians had interviewed, much less written about key persons in both the Aggie Latino community and the College Station/Bryan Latino community.  Retired professor and historian Henry C. Dethloff compiled a comprehensive history of Texas A&M in his two-volume work A Centennial History of Texas A&M University, 1987-1976 (1975, Texas A&M Press) but few Latinos were featured in his work.  Again, in his book, co-authored with John A. Adams Jr., Texas Aggies Go to War: In Service of Their Country, Aggies in the Military (2005, Texas A&M Press), few Hispanics are chronicled.  It was as if Hispanics did not have a history, but the exhibit !Siempre! and this collection of essays from the diversity of voices in the Hispanic Aggie Family disproves this.  From previous oral history projects, I knew the antecedents of Latino history at Texas A&M lay with the different families and individuals who had lived and worked in the region.  To my surprise, no one had conducted extensive oral history interviews of the Hispanic community in Bryan/College Station.  For the exhibit, we did locate some interviews with several individuals in the area in preparation for the exhibit.  It soon became obvious we needed a full-scale oral history project, but we lacked the time to initiate such an endeavor. 

Our visual research uncovered that Latinos had been a part of the history of A&M since the late 1800’s but because there had never been a study of Hispanics as a collective voice at Texas A&M, over the centuries, individual voices and images were overlooked in the scheme of things.   Another more distinct reason that there has not been an outcry from Hispanic Aggies to be recognized collectively is that as Andrés Tijerina points out in his essay “Becoming Aggie, The Tijerina Brothers, Albert ’65 and Andrés ’67,” cultural, class and ethnic differences were put aside in the development of becoming Aggie, so student ethnicity, became secondary to the development of what is known as the “Aggie Spirit.”   But becoming Aggie has different connotations and trajectories for different groups.  Students and alumni experiences, and the degree of Aggie acculturation differ from those of faculty.  Faculty stories differ from those of staff and so on.  In the end, even though the institutional culture and living in the cities of College Station and Bryan, Texas encourage everyone to become an Aggie, not everyone becomes one.

!Siempre! Hispanics have always been a part of Texas A&M

Texas A&M is like no other institution in this country--there are few comparisons.  Primarily, being the first land grant institution in Texas, with its origins in Spanish land grants, it has played a major role in educating generations of individuals and families.  The institution’s history has also been host to the Corps of Cadets, which was compulsory for students up until 1965.  As a result of this, Aggies have served in every major theater and war since the Spanish American War to the present day War in Iraq.   As David L. Chapman, University Archivist and co-curator for !Siempre! points out, “Hispanics have been part of the fabric of Texas A&M at every level, except in one.”  At Texas A&M, Hispanics comprise less than 5 percent of the employees in faculty and administrative positions, while 36 percent are employed in the food custodian and service levels.

Agriculture and the Sciences, are the mainstays of the university, and they have attracted Latin American students for decades.  Professional programs such as Medicine, Business and Architecture have also attracted Hispanic students.  And within the last 40 years, Liberal Arts will continue to be a significant factor in the transformation of the university.  An important factor in the development and support for the institution is former students’ loyalty to the university.  Faculty and administrators have also played major roles.  Finally, laborers and blue-collar workers have also played important roles in support positions.

The history presented in the exhibit is based on existing secondary materials we have gathered from the university archives—from yearbooks, student newspapers and materials combed from our collections at the Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, supplemented by a growing collection of photographs, personal papers, interviews, scrapbooks, artifacts, interviews from various individuals and departmental collections that have come forward to share their materials and stories with us.  With this exhibit, we encourage others to do the same.

The history of Hispanics at Texas A&M is alive and ever changing, thus, we have designed the exhibit to accommodate additional and new materials as they become available.  Participants in the collection of this history will be able to upload their histories and stories on the web site, as well as bring forth materials for us to consider displaying in the changing portion of the exhibit.  The sum of these materials will be deposited in the University Archives to help us develop a fuller picture of the presence and contributions of Hispanics and help future researchers uncover more of the Hispanic experience at Texas A&M.  

The exhibit, the development of the Department of Hispanic Studies, the administration’s support of Hispanic faculty, staff and research organizations and the hiring of new Hispanic faculty via the University’s Faculty Reinvestment Program, that includes my dual appointment as the first Hispanic/Latino Studies Librarian at the Cushing Memorial Library and Archives and at the Sterling C. Evans Memorial Library, is the continuation of the institution’s efforts to address previous lack of attention to Hispanics at Texas A&M. 

As Norma Arizpe, Chair of the Exhibit Advisory Committee of the “!Siempre! Hispanics at Texas A&M:  Celebrating 130 Years, 1876-2006,” points out: “The story of Hispanics at A&M, however, is not complete.  Much work still remains in the unfolding story.  As this exhibit is finally made public, more stories of Aggie Latinos will emerge.”

We will look back at 2006 and see it as a watershed year in the history of Hispanics at Texas A&M.  This will be the year of the opening of the exhibit: !Siempre!  I truly feel blessed to have been a part of the creation of the exhibit.  But the success of projects such as !Siempre! hinges on the work of many. I am thankful for a cadre of talented colleagues at the Cushing Memorial Library and Archives—Steven E. Smith, David Chapman, Diana Ramirez, Gregory Cuellar, Christopher Morrow, Stephanie Elmquist, Rebecca Hankins, Valerie Coleman, Jo Youngblood and many others.  I would like to give special thanks to the Exhibit Advisory Committee for their support throughout the development of the exhibit.  The essay writers deserve special thanks--they who took time out of their busy teaching, research and professional lives to write insightful and important essays.   Lastly, I would like to thank Norma Adame Arizpe, Chair of the Exhibit Advisory Committee, who has been an excellent steward for our work. 

The Essays

The exhibit posed different challenges because not much of the cultural record of Hispanics at Texas A&M had been collected, so essentially, we had to start from scratch.  This is the reality in many other academic institutions in the country that are beginning to wake up to the fact that they are surrounded by changing demographics.

The original intent of the exhibit was to divide it, using themes we developed and then select essay writers (faculty members and community leaders) and extract content from the essays.  We sent letters and possible topics and questions to explore in the creation of their pieces to the essayists.  In addition, we later sent each person a CD with over 300 images we found to assist them in writing their essays.  It was our intent to feature the essays as part of the exhibit.  Initially, they were going to be featured solely on the web site for the exhibit but the opportunity to publish them simultaneously in the catalog and the web presented itself, thus, we opted to go this route.

Community Leader Helen Chavarría’s contribution opens the collection of essays.  Her essay titled: “Hispanic Families and Their Histories at Texas A&M: From the Fields to the Campus,” documents Aggie families presence from the agricultural fields to the campus.  She traces individuals’ stories and demonstrates Texas A&M’s influence as a major employer in the local economy. 

Author and English Professor Marco Portales’ essay, “How Do We Refer to Spanish-speakers?”, on the use of Latino versus Hispanic, addresses an early dilemma experienced by the Exhibit Advisory Committee on what to call the exhibit.

History Professor Andrés Tijerina’s essay about his Aggie experience is told in the close relationship he shared with his brother Albert, who died in Laos, during the Vietnam War.  In his essay, “Becoming Aggie, The Tijerina Brothers, Albert ’65 and Andrés ’67,” Tijerina recounts the transformation to what he refers to as not Mexican Aggies, not a woman Aggie, but an Aggie.

Houston Chronicle Sports Columnist John P. Lopéz’s essay, “Traditions in Sports,” presents his experiences at Texas A&M and gives recognition to the unknown history of Hispanic sports greats.

“Fields of Honor: Hispanic Aggies in Their Country’s Service,” by Leonardo G. Hernández, Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret) and Chairman, Texas A&M Hispanic Network chronicles the important contributions of Latino Aggies in the military.

Sociologist and Professor Rogelio Saenz writes on the future implications and opportunities associated with the changing Hispanic demographics in his essay “Latinos/as Rising: the Future of Latinos at Texas A&M.”

A commencement address at Texas A&M by Jorge F. Quiroga, Vice President of Bolivia, December 18, 1998 is reprinted here to share the experience of Latin American Aggies, who have been an important part of the history of Texas A&M.

Lastly, Attorney and Community Leader Daniel R. Hernández in his essay, “Texas A&M’s Spirit of Aggieland,” writes about his role as an educator and product of the Aggie experience and his hope of what challenges and opportunities lay ahead for Texas A&M.

And in the midst of organizing !Siempre!, Marty Holmes, Associate Director from the Association of Former Students referred writer Kara Bounds Socol to us for an article she was writing for the Texas Aggie.  We provided her with our research to date, which resulted in “The Hispanic Presence at Texas A&M,” a major article on the state of Hispanics at Texas A&M--it was then natural of us to include it as part of the diversity of voices found here.

- Miguel Juárez, Assistant Professor and
Curator of Hispanic/Latino Studies Collections
Cushing Memorial Library & Archives
Texas A&M University Libraries

 



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