Tejano Leadership in Mexican and Revolutionary Texas
While pondering the lives of the historical actors that populate the pages of Tejano Leadership, the image of leaves in a gale comes to mind. In his masterpiece, War and Peace, Tolstoy expressed serious doubts about the capacity of leaders to shape events. In this volume, José Antonio Navarro, "one of the most important . . . Tejanos of the nineteenth century," in the words of James E. Crisp, found that his plight and that of all Tejanos was one of "powerlessness."
Perhaps this plight is an appropriate context for evaluating the role of Tejano leaders during the first half of the nineteenth century when powerful forces swept Texas. Caught between a tidal wave of Anglo immigrants from the north and east and a surge of militaristic centralism from the south in the 1830s, Tejanos in positions of leadership were put to a brutal test and none remained unscathed. But their role as leaders lay not so much in their ability to shape events as in their capacity to survive and defend their communities and inspire others.
The stories of eleven of these Tejano leaders are vividly told by a talented group of historians who were brought together by Jesús F. de la Teja, who himself exercised considerable leadership in guiding this project from its inception to its conclusion. The book contains a judicious foreword by David J. Weber and a solid, contextual introduction by De la Teja.
The eleven Tejano leaders were from different origins and walks of life. Among them were businessmen, ranchers, military men, and even a Catholic priest. Some, like José Antonio Navarro and Juan N. Seguín, are well-known, others, like Carlos de la Garza and Fernando De León, are obscure. But they all lived lives of "tested loyalties, contested allegiances, and difficult choices." (1) Moreover, those choices usually fell within a very narrow frame, as Navarro and Francisco Ruíz could attest. They were warned by Anglo soldiers not to return to Béxar from the Convention of March 1836 unless they voted for Texan independence. Like their counterparts in northern Mexico and on the Rio Grande frontier, they were forced to embrace pragmatism in order to survive.
The individual studies are not lacking in the description of traits that characterized Tejano leaders, and these traits are pillars that sustain most models of leadership. But models and theories are not discussed, a feature of the book that may leave it open to criticism, but which makes it attractive to a broader reading public.
As in most books with multiple authors, the essays are somewhat uneven, but they all range from good to excellent. The format makes it inevitable that some events, such as battles and plagues, are repeated. It is also inevitable that not all aspects of Tejano leadership can be covered exhaustively. Thus, the relation between leaders and followers, an important component of leadership, does not receive a great deal of attention. A brief glimpse, like Plácido Benavides's willingness to abuse his social inferiors (63), suggests that this is an issue that would have enriched these essays.
But these minor issues cannot diminish its salient characteristics: the essays are short, eminently readable, and based in good measure on primary sources, some of which are in Mexican archives. The authors performed an admirable task of piecing together fragments from different sources to construct coherent and credible [End Page 210] biographies. Their collective efforts have produced a book unlike any other because the subject of Tejano leadership has never received such an extensive treatment. It is a pioneering book that greatly enriches Texas historical studies.
It is said that a leader should give hope to those he leads. The Tejanos discussed in this book often provided inspiration to others in their lifetime. Through this book they continue to provide it for posterity.