Valley of Forsaken Dreams

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic

There was always hope. There was always an expectation. There was always optimism. This was what kept the dreams alive.


By Al Garcia

There was always hope.  There was always an expectation.  There was always optimism.  This was what kept the dreams alive.  This was what fueled the passions of the braceros (Mexican laborers) and of the Tejanos (U.S. citizens living in Texas of Mexican heritage) who once worked on the fields and ranches along the Rio Grande. 

It is hard to understand that in the early days of Texas, ethnic Mexicans like my parents and grandparents and even you and I, were considered “white” and Americans by Texas officials and the federal government.  Yet we were excluded and precluded from living the American dream.

In the early and evolving days of the expansion and development of the Rio Grande Valley, Tejanos dreamed of having found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  Tejanos owned and occupied the majority of the lands along the Rio Grande through outright purchases or land grants or gifts.  The list of Mexican families owning lands and property along the Rio Grande is long and includes such names as Saenz, Garcia, Bazan, Canales, Gonzales, Salinas, Cavazos, Trevino, Hinojosa, Flores, Perez, Rocha, Villarreal, Garza, Ramirez, Palacios, Vela, Mancha, Galindo, Escobar, and dozens of other families.  Most of these families were farmers, with a few ranchers in the mix.  And the Tejanos dreamed of life along the Rio Grande.  They were the settlers and colonists and pilgrims from South of the Rio Grande that saw the promise of this new frontier in a new United States.

However, as the truth and myth of the “magic” of the valley along the Rio Grande grew, so did its settlement and the influx of grifters and Northerners, Anglos for the most part, seeking the riches of this new frontier.  Unfortunately, Tejanos were land-rich and cash-poor.  There were new laws and new taxes imposed with the invasion of Northern blood and Northern greed.  And soon, Tejanos saw their lands and property foreclosed and auctioned off to Anglos from the North.  And soon the dreams that once had helped to forge the foundation and potential of the valley along the Rio Grande began to die and whither, as once strong and dignified Tejanos where transformed from landowners and jeffes, to laborers and braceros on their own lands. 

My own family history reveals the tragic loss of life and property and dignity during the early days along the Rio Grande, when greed, racism and segregation reared its ugly head like the snake in the Garden of Eden.  The realities of the 20th century began to overtake the innocence of the Tejanos, who were no match for the unquenchable hunger of the new Anglo farmers and ranchers and land speculators who were lured to the Rio Grande Valley by the welcoming climate, the wild and virgin lands and most of all, by the hardworking and docile Tejanos. 

The result of the rape and pilfering of the lands and homes and lives of long-ago Tejanos lingers still.  Many of us may recall the stories and shared memories of our parents as they sat outside on moon-lit nights, beneath a mesquite tree, staring into the warming flames of a fire on the ground.  They would talk of days long gone when dreams were still alive – and when sweat and tears and even blood was mixed with the richness of the soil and water and wind that made their hearts complete.  This was the promised land along the bank of the Rio Grande.

I also heard the narratives, the tales and the yarns of how our lands were stolen and how Tejanos were literally driven off their lands at gunpoint and under threats.  I heard of Angelo vigilantes and of Texas Rangers who intimidated the passive and compliant Tejanos into simply walking away and leaving behind the entirety of their lives and wealth and hearts.  And I heard this as a young man – too young to fully understand, but old enough to feel the hurt and pain and aguish in my father’s voice to know that he had lived the words and felt the indignity of being made to feel less than what and who he was.

As a young man growing up in the valley, I heard too many stories of hate and distrust, and saw too many tears of what my ancestors had to endure in this new and wonderous land of the free, and all because of greed and because we were too weak, too docile and too poor to protect and defend ourselves and the treasured lands that had sustained the dreams of so many.

This was where I was born and raised – in a valley of forsaken dreams.  A place where I returned not long ago to find the decaying remnants of my past intermingled with new dreamers and new dreams.  So much has changed and yet the footprints of my past remain so clear.  I can still feel the agony and the sorrow of all that was lost and of all who are gone.  But I can also take pride in the dignity and nobility that was passed on to me despite the attempts to demean and degrade and humiliate all links to my past. 

As I now walk through the valley of forsaken dreams, I feel the renewal of the spirit of once again being a part of a new frontier – a valley remade in the image of those who long ago once dreamt of having found a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  I am beginning to see the rainbow reemerge from the fog and haze that once obscured the beauty of the land and the river that flows through the valley I call home again.

A new generation of Mexican-Americans has emerged.  And with it, the realization that we have learned well from our past and from our arduous history along the Rio Grande.  We have learned well.  We have learned that along with determination, endurance and courage, something that our ancestors had and demonstrated day-in and day-out in those long-ago days, today’s new generation also needs, and has acquired the education, the money, the greed, and most of all the audacity to expect to be treated and respected as the Americans that they are. 

It’s a new day along the Rio Grande.  However, a new problem now seems to have emerged.  Maybe, just maybe, too many Mexican-Americans, whose roots flow deep and south of the Rio Grande, but who live and strive along the river bank of the Valley by the Rio Grande, now feel and act like the Gringos and the Anglos of our past.  For I have seen and heard too many of my fellow brown-skinned brothers and sisters demean and bemoan and accept the dehumanization of our fellow brown-skinned human beings, neighbors and ancestors who are trying to find their own dream along the Rio Grande, just as our own grandparents and great-grandparents once did.

Have we not learned from our own history?  Or, did we just learn too well how to devalue, degrade and humiliate our fellow human beings?  Is that now part of being and feeling like a true American?

Submitted: May 23, 2021

© Copyright 2021 A.Garcia. All rights reserved.

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