Border Bandits film inspires legislation - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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Border Bandits film inspires legislation

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Posted: Sunday, January 9, 2005 12:00 am

By Elizabeth Pierson

The Brownsville Herald

AUSTIN, January 9, 2005 One Texas legislator filed a bill that could bring public recognition to the seedy side of the Texas Rangers, who historians say killed and terrorized thousands of Tejanos.

Rep. Aaron Pena, D-Edinburg, Thursday filed House Bill 317, which would designate Cinco de Mayo, or May 5, as Tejano Heritage Day. The day would commemorate the history of Tejanos and the contributions they have made to history in Texas and the world.

He is working with historians and families of the victims to develop some type of memorial, he said Monday.

The recent interest by legislators was spurred largely by the 2004 film Border Bandits, which depicted the 1915 story of two well-respected Tejano landowners who were shot in the back near the McAllen Ranch in Hidalgo County by Texas Rangers after Mexicans came to raid the ranch.

Their killer, Bill Sterling, has a historical marker at his grave in Corpus Christi, but the victims, Jesus Bazan, 67, and his son-in-law, Antonio Longoria, have ordinary roadside graves on FM 1017 in northern Hidalgo County.

But Pea will stop short of introducing the bill to require that Texas children learn in their required state history classes about the questionable activities of the Texas Rangers.

Changing curriculum to reflect what many historians know to be true would be politically difficult considering the romantic lore of Texas Rangers, he said.

He said he wants to take steps to recognize the history without risking losing support for the bill in a state where Texas Rangers are respected in the history books for their bravery.

The middle ground is where we have to find, because this is not a bunch of South Texans getting together to decide what happened, Pea said. These are people who have a vision of Texas as being glorified and pure.

Pea is also exploring the possibility of working to have a highway named in honor of Tejano heritage. He would not say where that highway is, saying the discussions are preliminary.

The issue is near to Pea, who has studied it since seeing the film last fall in Harlingen. After the screening, grandchildren of each of the two men killed said they want recognition of the deaths.

A New York Times reporter was also in the audience, and Peas office later was flooded with e-mails from across the country from people who said they knew of relatives killed by the Texas Rangers, Pea said.

The Texas Department of Public Safety, which includes the Texas Rangers, said the history has nothing to do with the Rangers of today. Tom Vinger, spokesman for DPS, said he had not seen the movie, but was familiar with the story it tells.

"That was a historical event that took place before the Rangers were part of DPS, so it doesnt have any relation to the modern rangers," he said.

The Texas Rangers merged with the highway department in 1935, Vinger said.

Dallas filmmaker Kirby Warnock created Border Bandits based on the story told to him by his grandfather, a 19-year old cowboy working on the Guadalupe Ranch near present-day Edinburg. His grandfather Roland witnessed the Rangers from Company D shoot the two unarmed men in the back, according to the film.

The Rangers said they were seeking justice for an earlier raid by Mexicans on the McAllen Ranch, but the men were Valley landowners and American citizens. One was a postmaster and another a respected 67-year-old, Warnock said.

Warnock first recorded his grandfathers story in 1973 when he was a senior history major at Baylor University taking a course in oral history. He held onto the recordings and later spent five years researching the story to back up his grandfathers account with facts.

The screening in September at Cine Sol in the Valley, along with other screenings around Texas have received strong responses from audiences who were either shocked that their history books misled them or glad to have attention paid to their ancestors stories, he said.

The Anglo people in the audience, theyre just dumbfounded, but the Hispanics, they are both angry and relieved, he said. Theyre angry its taken so long to tell the story, and relieved that someone is finally telling it.

Warnock said hes not out to dispel the contributions of the Texas Rangers, but only to tell his grandfathers story.

Im not some crusading liberal, he said. I own a Suburban, seven guns, I drink beer, and I go hunting, so please dont call me the Michael Moore of Texas, because Im not.

Since the release of the film, Warnock has had at least 70 calls from families, many in the Valley, saying the Texas Rangers killed their relatives, he said.

Rudolfo Rocha, professor of history and the dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at the University of Texas-Pan American, appeared in the film and has studied Texas Rangers and Tejanos for 20 years.

In his research, Rocha has documented 3,000 Tejanos killed by the Texas Rangers. Other historians estimate the number was twice as much, he said.

He was asked by Pea to be part of an advisory team to decide what type of memorial or grave marker should be erected for the two men who were killed. Like Pea, Rocha wants recognition of the event to serve as an important reminder of an ugly chapter of history, not to nullify the positive accomplishments of the Texas Rangers or change history.

We should have some sort of a memorial to them as a symbol, not just to those two individuals, but symbolic of what happened to way over 3,000 Mexican-Americans, he said.

With Hispanics set to eventually become a majority in Texas, the time is right to tell their story, Rocha said.

In this country, when we think of racism, or segregation or integration, people probably think of black and white, he said. However, in Texas, it really hasnt been black and white, its been brown and white, so its time that we recognize that.

The film is scheduled to play again at 4 p.m. Jan. 29 at the Border Theater in Mission, Warnock said.

For more information, visit Warnocks Web site at www.bigbendquarterly.com

epierson@link.freedom.com

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