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Fronteras: Anthology examines the forgotten history of state-sanctioned attacks against ethnic Mexicans along the southern border

Content warning: The second photo in the gallery above depicts violence against ethnic Mexicans photographed in the early 20th Century. Some viewers may find the photo unsettling.

In 1918, the Texas Rangers, ranchers and U.S. cavalry soldiers massacred 15 men and boys in the Texas border town of Porvenir.

This was not a lone incident. In a period known as La Matanaza — or the Massacre — historians estimate anywhere from 500 to 5,000 ethnic Mexicans in Texas were killed.

Lynchings, assaults and state-sanction killings are just a few examples of racial violence against ethnic Mexicans in Texas in the early 20th century. In 1919, these bouts of violence sparked a series of hearings by José Tomás, or J.T., Canales: the sole Mexican-American legislator in Texas at the time.

The Porvenir massacre and the Canales investigations are explored in the anthology of scholarly essays: “Reverberations of Racial Violence: Critical Reflections on the History of the Border.”

John Morán González is a J. Frank Dobie Regents Professor of American and English Literature at the University of Texas at Austin, and co-editor of the collection.

Gonzalez said the book’s contributors examine violence against ethnic Mexicans in a larger context, and dispel many wide-held beliefs about Texas history.

“The mythology that many Texans have been brought up with [is] the Texas Rangers as the good guys with guns and white hats,” he said. “That is an unfortunate characterization because, one, it's wrong, but it's one that is typically propagated through fourth grade and seventh grade Texas history.”

The nonprofit Refusing to Forget has worked to keep alive this piece of borderlands history by honoring the victims and their families.

Along with González, Sonia Hernández is co-editor of the anthology, co-founder of Refusing to Forget, and an associate professor in the Department of History at Texas A&M University at College Station.

She discussed the effort to bring awareness to the violence.

“You have this incredible effort on the part of the Mexican origin community — principally the women of the community, the descendants, the widows, the children, the grandchildren of these victims — who kept this history alive through oral histories, through their own family archives,” she said.

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Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1
Marian Navarro produces for Texas Public Radio's Morning Edition and Fronteras.