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Campo Santo - What's Next for Holy Ground at Children's Hospital? (extended)

Norma Martinez

Tejanos are historically known as the early Spanish settlers who lived in what is now Texas back in the 1600s.  Tejanos also played a role in the fight for Texas independence.  Today, Tejanos are considered the descendants of the early Spanish settlers and the indigenous Mexican population.  Though Tejanos have had a constant presence in the region for centuries, their role in Texas history isn’t as celebrated as other figures in Texas history, including the heroes of the Alamo – Travis, Crockett, and Bowie being the most famous. 

In 2016, a forgotten remnant of Tejano history was literally unearthed in San Antonio.  TPR's Norma Martinez had a chance to talk with Rudi Rodriguez, president and founder of TexasTejano.com, about the discovery.

There was an incident in the past year that brought up an almost-forgotten chapter of Tejano history.  Back in September 2016 the San Antonio Children’s Hospital was doing some excavation work for a children’s prayer garden, and they revealed there were remains on the grounds.  The site of the hospital was a campo santo – a holy ground – a gravesite for Indians, Tejanos, the early settlers, Canary Islanders, some of the Mexican soldiers who fought with Santa Ana.  The history goes, apparently that the graves, back in the 1920s when the hospital was being constructed, those graves – in 24 hours – were all exhumed, they were reinterred on the Westside of San Antonio.  But this recent construction reveals this was not the case.  A few months ago, UTSA archaeologists study the remains, they tried to find some of the descendents of the people they unearthed.  About a month or so ago, those remains were re-interred in the place in which they were found.  But you have a particular mission for this campo santo

I want to say that although the mission of Texas Tejano has been to produce traveling exhibits and documentaries…advocacy was never a part of the mission statement.  That came later.  This fits into the nature of what we deem as our responsibility as advocates. 

The campo santo was formally put into play in 1808.  There were over 3000 souls that were buried there between 1808 and about 1859.   The campo santo is to a community what a cemetery is in any other part of the world.  It is to be a place of commemoration, a place of solemnity, a place to be revered for generations.  It isn’t something you suddenly decide, you’re not using it anymore, let’s build a shopping mall on it, a school on it, or a hospital.   It’s part of our culture, it’s part of our society.   

I’ve coined the phrase “social compact” in describing the role our government officials have.  We have a social compact – we elect you, we support you in any way we can, and we expect that you represent us well, that you do things that are good for our community.  Not just now but for the future.   And I deem it appropriate to have that same social compact with our religious leaders.  I believe that we entrust our faith and our treasure to our clerics for centuries, and they should have our best interests in heart in any number of things.  Not just our souls, but our well being and society.  We reflect on that and say, ‘where were our leaders then?  Where were our champions?’  I have struggled with some of our leaders in the community.  Where were our leaders then? What happened?  ¿Que paso?   I wish I would have been part of that fight. 

Forward to now, that is our dilemma.  We seek remedy and we seek a way of binding back that social compact.  There are some wounds that are there and they’re open.  And they must be addressed.

But haven’t you seen efforts  towards a remedy by the remains being returned to the grounds in which they were discovered, and to have a ceremony for the reburial? Do you think that’s enough, or is that a first step? 

Yes, Santa Rosa Hospital did reach out to descendants. The Canary Islanders association, the Bexareños (Genealogical Society), the Native American association here got involved, and they listened.  I will say to their credit, the hospital officials listened. They had no preconceptions of what to do. As they’ve said in private conversation, ‘we’re really in uncharted territory. We’re trying to do the right thing by listening to you and seeing what we can do to take that camino – that path.’  

The designation of ‘campo santo’ has been returned because there were some court orders filed previously.  They went to the court and asked that ‘campo santo’ be re-instated as a designation.  The need to do a cultural and historical report is one of the key requests that we’ve made as a group. 

There is a lot of heresay in regards to who was responsible? Who gave the last word to say go ahead and start building the hospital on top of the campo santo?  When did that occur? Who were the parties?  The archdiocese has not responded as it should.  I think there will be ample time for them to respond, but there hasn’t been this historical trail that says, here’s who did what-when and so-forth.  And that’s why this historical cultural report is important.  They’ve agreed to do that. 

We’ve requested a monument and a marker to commemorate the campo santo.  They’ve also agreed to that.  The need to not disrupt any further the 70+ remains. We had a private ceremony to reinter those remains, and then that began the process for the hospital to complete the prayer garden project, with some alterations.  They’ve been sensitive to the fact that the campo santo is there.  The nature of the prayer garden has been adjusted to be reverent to the campo santo as well. 

In regards to the awareness of Tejanos in history, would you say that as unfortunate as this particular discovery was at the campo santo, that it at least brought more attention to Tejanos in Texas history?

Well, unfortunately in the wrong way.  But, yeah, absolutely.  One of the things we’ve heard over and over throughout our 15-year history with TexasTejano.com is we’re always told ‘I didn’t know about that.  I wasn’t taught that. I didn’t read that. I didn’t understand that.  No one told me.’  That goes not only for the Anglo society, but our Hispanic society.  I venture to say that 90-95% of Tejanos today don’t know their history.  That’s a result of what I call the “commission of omission.”  Our state institutions are lacking in providing us with the diversity in our cultural history.

We (Tejanos) have only one Alamo hero who was given a Christian burial in 1836.  His name was Gregorio Esparza.  His two brothers were able to persuade Santa Ana to allow them to bury their brother in a campo santo.  In addition to that, his wife Ana Salazar survived the battle and is a hero in our eyes because she bandaged the wounded and fed the revolutionists.  Their three sons – Manuel, Enrique, and Francisco – and the little baby girl, the daughter – Maria – they were children of the Alamo. 

We would love to see a monument placed to commemorate not just the campo santo, but to elevate and celebrate the role of Tejanos in the fight for Texas independence.  The fact that they were fighting and struggling for their independence for their own grounds, their own land, their own families – they didn’t come here 30 days before in applying an ethereal value of independence. They were fighting for their country – they were fighting for THEIR independence and for what they had at stake, which was their family and their love of the lands. 

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1