By Steve Walker
As a former middle school and high school History teacher and other subjects, I encouraged my students to read history books on their own for their own enjoyment. I also encouraged them to come up with some historical facts that they could use to challenge their classmates and me in a game of historical trivia. Two of those high schools were Memorial in Edgewood and McCollum in Harlandale.
We would write down some interesting facts we read and make questions out of them to bring to class to see who knew more history than others. They were up for the challenge. Each time we did it the winner would earn an extra 100 to average in their grades for the semester which proved to be an added incentive. It was a fun activity.
In a recent Express-News article, the writer listed over 40 questions about the history of San Antonio to see how much the reader knew about the Alamo City. Surprisingly very little of it referenced the history of the many contributions of Hispanics to the local community. It was more on historical old buildings and businesses which was still kind of fun trying to answer them.
It brought back sharp memories of my classroom filled with excited students raising their hands to give an answer in hopes of winning the competition. I thought today’s column would address some historical facts about San Antonio primarily related to our city’s Hispanic heritage.
Did you know that activist Adina de Zavala lived at the Menger Hotel downtown from 1926-1932? Born in 1861, she died in 1955. She was an elementary teacher, historian and preservationist of Texas History. Her father was Augustine, son of Lorenzo de Zavala the first Vice President of the Republic of Texas. As a prolific writer she authored History and Legends of the Alamo and Other Missions In and Around San Antonio.
Question: Who likes to eat lots of Fritos? They were invented here in San Antonio in 1932. My father was offered the opportunity to buy stocks in Fritos really cheap in the 50s, but opted to purchase other stocks that didn’t do so well. There went my inheritance!
Another interesting fact about San Antonio from 1731-1837, one hundred and thirteen Hispanics served consecutively as Mayor before an Anglo, John Smith was elected. In 1842 Juan Seguin served one year and it wasn’t until another Hispanic Mayor, Henry Cisneros, was elected in 1981 until 1989. Since then Ed Garza (01-05) and Julian Castro (09-14) have served as mayor.
A number of my government class students at Memorial volunteered to work for Mayor Cisneros campaign, stuffing envelopes and passing out fliers. We were an active part of the first modern day Hispanic mayor’s election since 1842!
Do you remember the name of the 80th United States Attorney General from San Antonio, appointed February 2005 by President George W. Bush becoming the highest-ranking Hispanic in executive government up to that time?
Alberto Gonzales was also the first Hispanic to serve as White House Counsel and earlier he had been Bush's General Counsel during his governorship of Texas. Gonzales had also served as Secretary of State of Texas and a Texas Supreme Court Justice.
Local attorney Roy Barrera Sr. (68-69) became the first Hispanic Texas Secretary of State followed by San Antonio native Alberto Gonzales, (98-99) San Antonio Congressman Henry Cuellar, (2001-2002) and hometown icon Hope Andrade. (08-12)
Many voters recall before he became a Congressman, Henry B. Gonzalez was the first Hispanic to be elected a Texas State Senator? He was followed by Dr. Joe Bernal and currently the first female Hispanic Senator from San Antonio, Leticia van de Putte.
Continuing my column to inform and promote “all things Hispanic” for the readers of La Prensa, I sign off with “As always, I write just a thought.”
Steve Walker is a Viet Nam Veteran, former Journalist and Justice of the Peace.