In 1919, the lone Mexican American Texas state legislator, José Tomas “J.T.” Canales, called for an investigation into Texas Ranger behavior after almost a decade-long violent spree targeting Texas Mexicans. In 2019, the first public conference commemorating this historic civil rights moment took place at Bob Bullock State Museum. More than 100 years later, the reverberations of such violence are still felt; yet, equally important are the reverberations of civic activism that reminds us of community resiliency and the need for continued public dialogue about racialized violence. The Conference on the History and Legacy of the 1919 Canales Investigation in Texas was recognized by Texas Senate and House Resolutions. These Texas bills are a crucial first step toward public reckoning of one of the darkest chapters in our nation’s history. The larger historical context, first-hand testimonials by descendants, the need for public-facing history, and examples of community resiliency inform the fourteen essays that comprise Reverberations of Racial Violence.
REVERBERATIONS OF RACIAL VIOLENCE: CRITICAL REFLECTIONS ON THE HISTORY OF THE BORDER (UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS-AUSTIN PRESS, 2021).
Introduction: Memory, Violence, and History in the 1919 Canales Investigation Sonia Hernández and John Morán González
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Section 1. La Matanza and the Canales Investigation in Context
Trinidad Gonzales, Benjamin Heber Johnson, and Monica Muñoz Martinez, “Refusing to Forget: A Brief History”
Abstract: In this chapter, the authors describe the origins of the non-profit public history project, Refusing to Forget. Refusing to Forget documents one of the most brutal eras of border violence during the 1910-1920 period. Much of the anti-Mexican violence took place at the hands of the Texas Rangers. Building on multi-national archival research, personal family archives, and cultural and literary artifacts, the essay seeks to re-position the history of anti-Mexican violence within the context of larger nation-making while giving voice to under-represented communities.
Andrew R. Graybill, “Anglos, Mexicans, and Rangers in Texas, 1850-1900,”
Abstract: Graybill examines the role of the Texas Rangers in the pre-Canales period. Building on archival research, the essay provides social, economic, and political context to better understand the role of the Rangers during the second half of the nineteenth century through the dawn of the twentieth century.
Walter L. Buenger, “Texas in Four Parts: The Bordered World of 1919”
Abstract: Buenger examines the cultural complexity of Texas during the early twentieth century. The essay features cultural differences of various communities including German, Mexican, and African American Texans as well as examples of how these groups also shared common interests and adopted cultural practices such as music; it reminds us of how moments of shared cultural practices, even if brief, formed part of the larger socio-political context in the midst of growing anti-Mexican violence.
William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb, “La Matanza and the Canales Investigation in Comparative Perspective
Abstract: This essay provides an overview of racially-motivated violence in the greater Southwest to understand how anti-Mexican violence unfolded in the years leading up to and during the Mexican Revolution.
Gema Kloppe-Santamaría, “Representation, Refusal, and Remembrance; lynching and Extralegal Violence in Mexico and the United States, 1890s-1930s”
Abstract: Kloppe-Santamaría discusses the differences between Mexico and the United States and each country’s view of the practice of lynching of Mexican-origin people. Examining primary source material, the author seeks to understand the practice and the discourse surrounding lynching from a bi-national perspective.
Section 2. J.T. Canales, Resistance, and Resilience
Philis M. Barragán Goetz and Carlos K. Blanton, “The World of Education among Ethnic Mexicans in J.T. Canales’s South Texas”
Abstract: Barragán Goetz and Blanton examine Canales within the context of education in the midst of rising anti-Mexican violence. They provide an often overlooked aspect of Canales’ role in civic activism from his position as an educational leader and shed light on how issues of violence rooted in the racialization of Mexican Americans shaped the “world of education” of Mexican-origin people.
Gabriela González, “Humanizing La Raza: the Activist Journalism of the Idar Family in Early Twentieth-Century Texas”
Abstract: González describes the civic activism of the Idar family from Laredo, Texas. Shedding light on the various members of the family including Jovita, Nicasio, Clemente, and Eduardo, the essay reminds of the crucial role of the small, but public voice of an emerging middle-class, progressive, Mexican American community. The Idars called for an end to the horrific practice of lynching as they too sought to reform the Mexican American community.
Richard Ribb, “José Tomás Canales and the Paradox of Power”
Abstract: Ribb examines the challenges Canales faced during the Ranger investigation. The essay provides a detailed and harrowing account of Canales experiences during the hearings; Canales’ loyalty to the United States was put to trial all while encountering physical harassment by Texas Rangers who resisted the call for reform.
Cynthia E. Orozco, “J.T. Canales’s Contributions in Law, Civil Rights, and Education, 1920-1976”
Abstract: Orozco digs deeper into the life of J.T Canales examining his post-1920 career after the Ranger investigation. The essay provides an overview of Canales’ role in LULAC, as an attorney, as well as his varied experiences as a civil leader.
Section 3: Reflections on Recovering a History of State Violence and Its Reverberations
Kirby F. Warnock, “Hidden History: A Journey through the Past, with Hard Lessons for the Present”
Abstract: Using the story of his grandfather, Warnock gives us an insight into the making of his award-winning documentary on the period’s violence, “Border Bandits.” He reflects on the larger historical context and the need for continued public awareness of this often overlooked period of Texas History.
James A. Sandos, “Recovering the 1919 Canales Investigation of the Texas Ranger Force: Archival Investigation and Its Consequences, 1975-2010”
Abstract: Sandos reflects on his experiences conducting research on this topic and the challenges he encountered to access the transcripts of the Canales Hearings. As the first scholar to access the hearings in the post-1950 period, Sandos’ essay is an intimate view of both the limits and opportunities that the Canales Hearings offers us.
Christopher Carmona, “The Legacy of La Matanza, Intergenerational Trauma, and the Writing of El Rinche”
Abstract: Carmona centers the role of traumatic experiences in historical writing. In doing so, he reminds of the pressing need to reflect on the long legacies of community trauma in order to find closure and to better address contemporary forms of state violence. It is through creative writing and a re-telling of histories using positive historical characters that communities can find healing and closure.
Margaret Koch, “Stewarding the Personal Narratives of Painful History”
Abstract: Koch discusses the role of the Bullock Texas State Museum in creating the exhibit, Life and Death on the Border, 1910-1920. Koch details the process and the challenges encountered during the various stages of this unique exhibit. Koch’s essay also sheds light on the role of public and cultural institutions in broadening American history and making this history more meaningful and accessible.
Katherine Hite, “Reckoning with the Past toward the Here and Now”
Abstract: Hite discusses the efforts of cultural institutions and organizations in other parts of the Americas to document moments of state violence; she examines visitors’ reactions to such efforts and reminds of the important role of memory and public outreach in better understanding these dark moments in history.