- Faces of Béxar: Early San Antonio and Texas by Jesús F. de la Teja
By Jesús F. de la Teja. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2016. xv + 223 pp. Illustrations, bibliographic essay, index. $40.00 cloth.
In Faces of Béxar: Early San Antonio and Texas, Jesús F. de la Teja unites a collection of essays that explore the history of San Antonio and Texas during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. These essays, written over a period of twenty years, provide readers with unique insights into the diversity and history of the Tejanos, the native Mexicans who were born in Texas prior to the arrival of Anglo-American settlers. By challenging our conventional wisdom about Texas history, this book reveals the stories, identities, and activities of a people who would eventually become caught up in cultural and political struggles between Mexico and the United States.
Drawing upon original sources that include personal diaries, written correspondence, and public records, the author navigates topics such as Spanish colonial Texas, the flora and fauna of South Texas, the military settlement of San Antonio, sociocultural dynamics, and the relationship between Tejanos and early Texans. There is even a chapter on the "unrefined" recreational activities of the citizens of San Antonio. These activities, to the chagrin of public and religious officials, included bullfights, alcohol consumption, horseback riding, card games, gambling, and dancing. The book concludes with a bibliographic essay that provides readers with an extensive, but explicitly not comprehensive, survey of the literature about this period of Texas history.
Jesús F. de la Teja is to be commended for illustrating the book with paintings by Theodore Gentilz, a French-born artist who lived in San Antonio and captured Tejano life on canvas. Unfortunately, these illustrations are published as black and white images, which fail to accurately capture the vitality and beauty of the depicted scenes. The inclusion of a map would have also been helpful, as it would have enabled readers, especially those not familiar with Texas geography, to locate the communities and events discussed throughout the chapters.
Faces of Béxar offers a well-researched assemblage of essays that are must-reads for anyone interested in early Texas history. Jesús F. de la Teja's writing is accessible and his words give life to a time and region that is often overlooked by contemporary history books. This book would be a welcome addition to university [End Page 153] courses on early Texas history, and selected chapters could also be used to provide context in courses about Texas government.
Sam Houston State University