From 1838 to 1840, the people of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, and Tamaulipas fought against the Mexican central government for their independence. They fought under the battlefield leadership of one of the most remarkable men in Texas history and, as best I can tell, the only Afro-Tejano to have a Texas county named after him: Antonio Zapata. For the better part of a year, Zapata reigned supreme as the military leader of the region and as the avatar of his people. With his army of Rio Grande vaqueros, Carrizo American Indians, and Anglo-Texian volunteers, he held as many as three Mexican centralist armies at bay and won the respect of his enemies and the love of his men.
In following Antonio Zapata’s fight for Federalism, we also get a sort of second run at the war of Texas independence. It serves as a sort of control case to help us understand what it was that Tejanos — like Juan Seguin, who actually later joined the Rio Grande independence movement — meant when they signed on to fight and die for their “independence.” In this light, Tejano independence comes to look like something very different than the classic, Anglo-American notion of independence as a “fresh start.” In fact, I’ll argue that it starts to look like something much more recognizably Texan. It looks like a fight for autonomy within a tradition, rather than independence from tradition.
Join us for Season 4 of A New History of Old Texas: The Republic of the Rio Grande. New episodes will be out each Wednesday and available for free on the San Antonio Report website and through other podcast sources.