In the News: A Walk Through History

A Walk Through History: UTEP effort highlights Hispanics’ significance

By Ramón Rentería / El Paso Times

Posted: 07/07/2010 12:00:00 AM MDT

[Photo] David Romo, center, talked about the Mexican Revolution during a tour of Downtown El Paso Friday. Romo and a group of El Paso teachers were at the Camino Real Hotel. (Victor Calzada / El Paso Times)


EL PASO — As far as historian David Romo is concerned, the streets of South El Paso represent a living textbook that can help students understand the complexities of the Mexican Revolution of 1910.

“The role of El Paso in the revolution by any criteria should be part of not only the El Paso school curriculum but the national curriculum,” Romo said. “Unfortunately, it’s mostly ignored by the textbooks.”

Romo, author of the book “Ringside Seat to a Revolution,” recently escorted teachers from El Paso, Austin, Chicago and Los Angeles on a walking tour of revolution-era sites on South Oregon Street. This was part of lectures and workshops co-sponsored by the University of Texas at El Paso’s Center for History Teaching and Learning, El Paso Library and El Paso Museum of History.

Concerned that the Texas Board of Education is neglecting the historical significance of Hispanics in social studies textbooks, UTEP scholars are teaching schoolteachers practical ideas on how to inject the history of the Mexican Revolution and the borderlands into the public school curriculum. “The important role that El Paso played in the Mexican Revolution was history they never taught me in school,” Romo said. “I hope this is a first step to changing that.”

Various events have been planned this year and into 2011 in El Paso and Juárez to commemorate the Mexican Revolution’s 100th anniversary. Various historians and scholars have criticized the Texas Board of Education for adopting a controversial social studies curriculum in May that some suggest puts a conservative stamp on history textbooks. Some El Paso historians accused the elected state panel of minimizing the role of Hispanics in state and national history.

“What some people might call micro-history or local history is tremendously important to try to get a sense of what is going on today, such as immigration, violence across the border, people seeking refuge in El Paso and the profit that people are making on this side from the suffering across the border,” Romo said. “Even though it’s not taught as part of a standardized test, it’s crucial history and it shouldn’t be excluded from the curriculum in our schools because then you just propagate ignorance.”

Along South Oregon, one of the most prominent streets associated with the Mexican Revolution, Romo pointed to various buildings where revolutionaries, counter-revolutionaries and spies plotted strategy and where El Paso merchants often struck deals on smuggling arms and supplies into Mexico.

Romo pointed also to a building where “Los De Abajo” (The Underdogs), the first novel about the revolution, was written in exile.

“We’re not just looking at old buildings,” Romo said. “This is kind of interactive. You can actually touch the buildings where history took place.”

Nancy Rodriguez and Cornel Smith took pictures from atop the Camino Real Hotel in downtown El Paso Friday. They were taking part in a tour which will provide them information to be able to inject information from the Mexican Revolution into their history and social studies curriculums. (Victor Calzada / El Paso Times)

Revolutionary leader Francisco Madero established his revolutionary headquarters in 1911 in the Caples Building in Downtown El Paso. A few months later in May, hundreds of El Pasoans watched from rooftops as Madero’s troops, led by Francisco “Pancho” Villa and Pascual Orozco, battled federal troops in Juárez.

Sergio Guerrero, a world history teacher at Eastwood High School, recalled that some of his Mexican ancestors came to El Paso because of the revolution’s unpredictable violence.

“It’s very important for students to understand what took place here and the important role El Paso and Juárez played,” he said. “Sometimes, teachers have to throw in their own flavor, their own salsa into history, their own stuff outside of the textbook because that makes it more interesting for students.”

For Nancy Rodriguez, a history teacher at Americas High School, teaching effectively sometimes depends on finding the right hook.

“My Mexican-American history class is an elective, so I have autonomy in that I can use all sorts of sources,” Rodriguez said. “But I’m really excited about this, another tool. I want students to be hooked in a more personal way.”

[Photo] Participants in a Mexican Revolution history tour walked through Downtown El Paso Friday. (Victor Calzada / El Paso Times)

UTEP history professor Samuel Brunk reminded teachers the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) was the first big social revolution of the 20th century. “It’s hard to make sense of the revolution no matter what vantage point you take because it’s a complicated historical puzzle,” Brunk said. “It also doesn’t make a lot of sense to end the revolution in 1920 when the fighting ends because part of the revolutionary process is the change it produces.” Keith A. Erekson, an assistant professor of history at UTEP and one of the summer institute organizers, was optimistic that handling original sources in the library vault, standing on the roof of the historic Paso del Norte Hotel (now Camino Real) and talking with experts had excited teachers about the topic.

“Our overarching goal was to provide teachers with the inspiration and resources to teach students about the Mexican Revolution in particular and the international connections between the U.S. and Mexico in general,” Erekson said.

Yolanda Chávez Leyva, a UTEP historian and writer, told teachers the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian and other organizations across the United States and Mexico plan various exhibits to commemorate the Mexican Revolution.

“El Paso has this incredible legacy of buildings tied to the revolution that no other city can claim,” Leyva said.

Ramón Rentería may be reached at; 546-6146.


El Paso highlights

1893: Victor Ochoa, a Mexican-American living in El Paso, launches a revolutionary movement against the Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz.

1896: Diaz banishes healer Teresita Urrea after she inspires uprisings along Mexico’s northern border. She settles in El Paso in exile.

1906-1908: Brothers Ricardo and Enríque Flores Magón plot an anarchist movement in El Paso and later plot to take over Juarez. Both plans fail.

1909: U.S. President William Taft meets Diaz in El Paso.

1910: The revolution starts Nov. 20 with insurrections in northern Mexico. Thousands flee to El Paso and the United States.

1911: Revolutionary leader Francisco I. Madero establishes his offices in Downtown El Paso. His troops later defeat federal troops in Juarez as hundreds of El Pasoans watch from rooftops.

1911: The U.S. sends troops to the border fearing a spillover.

1913: Venustiano Carranza’s supporters (the Constitutionalists) set up headquarters in the Mills Building in El Paso.

1915: Mariano Azuela writes “Los De Abajo” (The Underdogs), the first novel about the revolution, in El Paso.

1916: Francisco “Pancho” Villa supporters attack a train in Santa Ysabel, Chihuahua, and kill 17 Americans, including Asarco employees.

1916: Anglo residents in El Paso attack Mexicans in a race riot outside the Majestic Theatre.

1916: Villa’s forces raid Columbus, N.M., in March.

1916: U.S. General John J. Pershing leads 10,000 soldiers into Mexico but does not capture Villa.

1919: Villa is defeated at the last Battle of Juarez.
Source: UTEP Department of History.


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