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'Little Mexico'

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'Little Mexico'
« on: March 31, 2007, 05:13:17 PM »

Saturday March 31, 2007
Gallego highlights 'Little Mexico' success in lectureB.J. Gallego not only knows Alpine's history, he's a part of it.

While local history has tended to overlook the Mexican-American majority in Alpine, Gallego is a descendant of one of the city's founding families. He is also a 1969 graduate of Alpine High School, a watershed year in local history, marking the final desegregation of Alpine schools and the closure of the Centennial School, which was reserved for "Mexicans" and-after the "colored school" was closed in 1954, for African-American students.

Gallego, a Vietnam veteran and Sul Ross graduate, spent 21 years as a field social worker before becoming a field researcher and historian for the Center for Big Bend Studies.


Gallego presented this year's C?sar Ch?vez lecture for the university's Mexican-American Studies Program on Tuesday to a large student and community audience. Gallego's lecture, "Hispanics In Alpine: A Vision Through Time," was originally presented in 2003 at a historian's conference. At the Ch?vez lecture, Gallego appended some material reflecting the past 30 years, which were not part of his original study.

Outlining Alpine's history from its beginnings as Osborne through its short history as Murphyville and up though desegregation, Gallego focused on "little Mexico," the blue-collar south side of the city. From oral testimony, old newspapers, photographs and other material, Gallego pieced together the story of a stable community in which family, the Catholic church and the "Mexican school," played a vital role.

There are some surprises. The first Roman Catholic Church was founded not by a Mexican-American, but by an ex-slave across from the Brewster County Courthouse in 1892. The first Our Lady of Peace church, originally "Nuestra Se?ora de Guadalupe," was built at the present location in 1902. The original building was torn down to make way for the parish hall.

"Watts Mexican Store," an early south side institution, was also owned by an African-American, J.W. Watts, a former Buffalo Soldier from Fort Davis. Many of Alpine's original Mexican-American families arrived from Fort Davis when the military fort was closed in 1891. A new wave of immigrants arrived with the Mexican Revolution, when refugees fled across the border and took up new lives in Alpine.

When Alpine's "colored school" was closed in 1954, following the Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education, African-American students were transferred to the Centennial School. Gallego noted that most of those students can still speak good Spanish today.

Gallego said "there were no big landowners," but that most of the community held jobs as ranch hands or laborers, though a surprising number listed their occupation on census forms as "musicians." Early 20th century Avalanche articles often mention fiestas and celebrations of Mexican and U.S. holidays featuring bands.

While the county and city were slow to accept Mexican-Americans into the political establishment (no Mexican-American was elected to local office until 1948), sports-especially baseball-embraced the community. An early baseball team, the "Internationals" was named to reflect the "bi-national" make-up of the team-many in those days still thinking of Latinos as "Mexicans" and Anglos as "Americans." Little League Baseball was integrated in 1954, long before the schools and their teams were.

Praising "Little Mexico's" pioneers and their descendants, Gallego said that while there were hardships and some outright incidents of racism (though he has never been able to confirm a report of the KKK coming to Alpine in the early 1920s), these hard-working families were relatively comfortable, proud of their community, and their larger community and country. From the 1970s onward, more and more professionals, university graduates, business owners and political office holders are coming from "Little Mexico's" original settlers.

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