Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month in Texas

In: Texas Times Column   Posted 09/15/2016

If you’ve spent any time in Texas, you know that we share so much more with our neighbors south of the border than just the waters of the Rio Grande.                                                                                 

For one, we share a long and elaborate history.  The first sovereign flag planted into Texas soil was Spanish – and that sprawling Spanish colony extended all the way to modern-day Chile.  When Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821, it won all of Texas as well.  And when Texas fought Mexico for independence, on the Texas side stood soldiers of Mexican and European descent alongside each other in support of a strong Republic of Texas. 

For lasting evidence of our entwined roots, look no further than the city of San Antonio, so-named because Spanish settlers arrived on the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua, or the city of El Paso, originally named El Paso del Norte because of its strategic location through what we now call the Franklin Mountains.  The city of Amarillo, which translates in Spanish to ‘yellow,’ became the Panhandle city’s name because of the color of the mud there.

Of course, the exchange of people, culture, and values extends beyond borders, city names, and flags.

Texans have developed an affinity for Hispanic cuisine – one of my family’s personal favorites is Mi Tierra in San Antonio, which the Cortez family has proudly owned for the past 75 years.  And I never leave the Rio Grande Valley without the ‎famously delicious tamales from Delia's.

Hispanic singers like Selena and Demi Lovato got their start here in Texas before they brought their bilingual hits to the national -- and global -- stage.

Texas is also blessed to have exceptional Hispanic jurists on the bench, like Judge Diana Saldaña of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. Diana grew up with modest means in Carrizo Springs before she went on to become the first federal judge nominated by President Obama for Texas.  And Eva Guzman, who is not only the first Hispanic woman to sit as a justice for the Supreme Court of Texas, but also the first Hispanic woman elected to any statewide office in Texas. 

All across the state, Hispanics are giving back to their communities.  Cecilia Abbott, the granddaughter of immigrants from Mexico and our first Hispanic First Lady of Texas, recently launched her “Texanthropy” initiative to promote volunteerism across Texas.  And Teach for America, which has expanded education and opportunity for underserved students across the nation, takes its lead from CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard, raised in the Rio Grande Valley and now based in Houston.      

More stories of the strength, success, and struggles of the Hispanic community are being recorded and shared every day, and for that we have, in part, Nicolás Kanellos to thank.  As Director of the nation’s oldest and largest publisher of U.S. Hispanic literature in the country, the Arte Público Press in Houston, Kanellos has focused on recovering and telling the forgotten tales of Hispanic-Americans.

We all benefit from a shared history, culture, and set of values.  And with more than one in every three Texans identifying as Hispanic, the ties between our cultures are tightly bound.

So as we come around to mid-September - and the anniversaries of the independence of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Chile, and Belize - I am proud to introduce a resolution in the United States Senate to recognize and celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.  We have much to celebrate.

Earlier this month, Sen. Cornyn participated in Hispanic Heritage Night at the Texas Rangers v. Houston Astros game.