On Sunday, residents of Von Ormy and the Medina River Valley gathered for mass at Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church to celebrate Patron’s Day and Homecoming. The bilingual mariachi mass drew around 200 people, many of whom were not members of the parish, according to resident Mary Castro.
“There are people from all over,” she said.
The reason for the out-of-towners was Von Ormy’s second History Harvest, an event aimed at uncovering the lost, untold, and misrepresented stories of the people of the Medina Valley southwest of San Antonio.
As word about the homecoming celebration spread, Castro said she received calls from people with family roots in the Medina Valley from as far away as California. Many could not come, but expressed hope that the event would happen regularly.
While the mass was in session, community members set up tables and laid out family artifacts, old photos, and documents from their personal histories. This part of the celebration was scheduled to continue into the day alongside a barbecue lunch and musical entertainment.
Researcher and event organizer Rudy De La Cruz Jr. and his partners, Art Martinez de Vara of Alamo Press and Ramon Vasquez of the American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions, are compiling the gathered stories into a series of books on Texas history, and eventually plan to form a cultural center on the campus of Northwest Vista College where De La Cruz teaches.
Martinez de Vara’s Alamo Press was established to print primary source material and historical works derived from the partnership’s efforts. His forthcoming volume, El Carmen – The Chapel of the Battle of Medina, will be the first title in the series.
When Texas joined the United States, De La Cruz explained, many of San Antonio’s Hispanic leaders were pushed south, where they settled in the agricultural lowlands around the Medina River and continued to mix with the Native American population that had occupied the region for centuries.
Many participants in the History Harvest brought land deeds and probate records that show how land was deeded away from Hispanic families as Texas went from being under Mexican rule to being independent to becoming U.S. territory over the course of a decade, from 1836-1846.
One such contributor, Vincent Huizar, is a sixth-generation descendent of Pedro Huizar, who crafted the Rose Window at Mission San José. Huizar unrolled enlarged copies of probate documents that demonstrate the value of his families holdings – all of which, he said, disappeared when Texas gained independence.
Julia Ann Hernandez’s table was devoted to her mother, who died in 2014. Wedding photos, family snapshots, and a street photograph taken near Alamo Plaza in the 1940s revealed a spunky Oralia Flores Hernandez, a mother of eight.
“No matter what mood we were in, she could make us laugh,” Hernandez said.
De La Cruz struck up a conversation with Hernandez, who told him all about her mother and father, as well as her excitement to see her family history preserved for future generations. “It will be preserved better, with more information than we had,” Hernandez said.
Currently, the history of the community is limited to what people can remember – accounts that have been passed from generation to generation, Hernandez said. She hopes the researchers can build a more complete history so that family members who move to other areas can come back and learn about their roots. For people like Hernandez, who do not have children of their own, it is reassuring to know that their family history will not die with them.
Her conversation with De La Cruz revealed that Hernandez’s father is related to the Quintana family, after whom nearby Quintana Road was named. De La Cruz asked Hernandez if she would be willing to take a look at some of his Quintana archives to see if she can identify some of the photographs.
He also asked Hernandez and the other exhibitors to fill out contact sheets for him and his partners.
That is how the History Harvest works: The researchers comb through material on the tables for clues, knowing quite well that most people leave their most precious and fragile artifacts at home. An old photo or textile on display most likely means there’s more to be found.
“We might get a few pieces [of information] at every table,” De La Cruz said.
From there, the researchers make appointments to spend more time with people who have documents, photographs, and artifacts relating to the area’s history. They visit homes, listen to stories, and make digital copies of whatever they can preserve.
The previous History Harvest yielded valuable information, and the researchers were able to catalogue some of the oral histories as well. They hope to one day be able to provide archives and resources similar to those available to the descendants of the Alamo defenders, signatories to the Texas Declaration of Independence, and other pieces of state history.
The Medina Valley settlements offer a more well-rounded picture of early Texas, De La Cruz said. There were Jewish, Polish, Irish, African, Alsatian, and Czech families who found the Southern region hospitable as they, along with the Hispanic and Native Americans, were outsiders to the dominant German and Anglo-American culture of San Antonio. In the Medina Valley, diverse communities had to cooperate to thrive.
“To me that’s the story of San Antonio,” De La Cruz said, not the “Texas versus Mexico” motif of an Alamo-centric narrative.
Archaeology can trace the history of the region back even farther, said Whitney Lytle of UTSA’s Center for Archaeological Research. Lytle and her colleagues from UTSA set up a tent with samples of artifacts that citizen archaeologists might find in the regional soil. Because of the way Texas soil settles, artifacts remain relatively close to the surface.
“San Antonio has really rich archaeological history,” Lytle said.
The UTSA archaeologists also brought a dummy hog and an atlatl, an ancient throwing spear, to engage the younger community members. De La Cruz hopes that the attention historians, archaeologists, and others are paying the community will inspire young people of the Medina Valley to take an interest in the region’s past as well.
The project’s next goal is some form of inclusion in San Antonio’s official Tricentennial celebrations. Expectations about the year-long celebration have been shifting due to announcements of leadership change and cancelled partnerships. But whatever the City does to commemorate its history, the history harvesters of the Medina Valley plan to see their ancestors represented.