By Edward Shore
White terror and racial strife inflamed the Texas-Mexico border at the turn of the twentieth century. Historians estimate that police officers, Texas Rangers, vigilante groups, and ordinary civilians alike massacred between several hundred and five-thousand people of Mexican descent residing in the southern Texas borderlands between 1910 and 1920. The victims included men and women, young people and the elderly, long-time residents of Texas and newly-arrived immigrants. Far from condemning the killings, many politicians and authorities endorsed ethnic cleansing. One Texas newspaper called for the “elimination” of a “serious population surplus.” Others advocated for the mass re-location of people of Mexican descent to concentration camps. The rash of racial violence in the borderlands coincided with the Mexican Revolution, a bloody, decade-long conflict that claimed the lives of nearly one in ten Mexican citizens. One million Mexicans arrived in the United States as refugees during this period. A century later, the anti-Mexican pogroms on the Texas-Mexico border remained largely overlooked in official remembering of racial violence and white terror in the age of Jim Crow and the rise of Klan.
That is, until now. In 2013, John Morán-González, professor of English at the University of Texas-Austin, together with colleagues Trinidad Gonzáles (South Texas College), Sonia Hernández (Texas A&M), Benjamin Johnson (Loyola University-Chicago), and Monica Muñoz (Brown University), launched Refusing to Forget. A collaborative, multi-disciplinary public history project that critically examines the deadly state violence targeting Texas Mexicans in the U.S. Mexico borderlands during the decade 1910-1920, Refusing to Forget has memorialized the victims while pressing educators, state officials, and the public to consider the legacy of state-sanctioned violence against people of color in the state of Texas. Through public exhibits, the placement of historical markers, and the fostering of community dialogues, Refusing to Forget underscores the necessity of understanding how past events continue to shape social relationships between Mexican-American communities and state institutions, especially law enforcement.
Dr. Morán González and his team have counted on the contributions of the public to share this painful chapter in Texas history. For instance, Ernesto “Buddy” and Benita Albarado of Uvalde, dedicated years of research and their own resources to preserve historical memory of the Porvenir Massacre of 1918 in Presidio County, west Texas. On January 27, 1918, a force of Texas Rangers arrested and summarily executed fifteen Texas Mexicans in retaliation for a series of raids committed by suspected followers of Pancho Villa in the area. The efforts of the Albarado family and other public-minded researchers led to the unveiling of a 2016 special exhibit at the Bullock Texas State History Museum dedicated to the Porvernir Massacre and racial violence in the borderlands during the early twentieth century. Refusing to Forget plans to launch an online exhibit, curate a traveling museum exhibit, and design curriculum materials for public school teachers to preserve the memory of victims and to lend critical historical context to contemporary debates about immigration reform, civil rights, and policing.