Los Tejanos

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Tejano fighters at the Alamo

Comics get a bad rap. The industry is usually painted with the same broad brush, stereotyped as juvenile schlock. While that’s sometimes fair, there’s a wealth of incredibly drawn, thought-provoking comics out there too. Jack Jackson’s “Los Tejanos” is one of those books.

Los Tejanos Cover
Cover of Fantagraphics 2013 Edition

It was published in 1981, when the market for a historical western comic was pretty slim; bookstores didn’t stock graphic novels and comics shops wanted superheroes. Over twenty years, it only earned Jackson about $2,500.

Which is a shame, because this book isn’t just a great comic – it also tries to remedy a historical injustice. In Jackson’s words:

When we “Remember the Alamo,” it is usually a vision of a small, grim band of Anglo-Saxon martyrs being overwhelmed by a screaming horde of maniacal Mexicans, their bayonets glistening with the blood of patriots as they trample in endless waves into the sanctuary of Texas liberty.

What we don’t remember is that inside the walls of the Alamo, amongst its defenders, there were also Mexicans who fought and died, except they called themselves “Tejanos” – Texans! Nor do we remember that at the battle of San Jacinto, where in eighteen minutes the fate of a vast land was decided, there was also a company of Tejano volunteers fighting beside Sam Houston and the Anglo conquerors.

This book is an attempt to pay homage to these brave souls by following the true story of one such man, Juan Nepomuceno Seguín … Had he been Anglo, his name would be remembered among the lists of the great – beside Travis, Crockett, Bowie, and the rest. But being Tejano, his contribution has been ignored, for his exploits did not conveniently fit into the myth of Anglo-Saxon prowess that historians have seen fit to fashion from the events of our revolution (and that films like John Wayne’s “The Alamo” have since perpetuated).

His research on Los Tejanos (as well as other history comics) was so meticulous that he was inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters and made a Lifetime Fellow of the Texas State Historical Association.

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Tejanos were the original Texans. The territory was still part of Mexico in the 1830’s, and the neglected residents began to resent the Mexican government. Joining the fast-growing Anglo population (called “Texians”), including men like Jim Bowie and Sam Houston, the Tejanos and Anglos revolted.

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Seguín was even at the Alamo. He was chosen to sneak across Mexican siege lines and rally reinforcements – the reinforcements, obviously, didn’t get back in time. The Alamo defenders were massacred and days later 400 captured Texians were executed by Santa Anna at Goliad.

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Santa Anna was finally defeated at San Jacinto, securing Texan independence. Unfortunately however, that’s when the trouble for Juan and other Tejanos began.

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Seguín, now a lieutenant colonel, served as the military commander of San Antonio. He was elected to the Texas Senate in 1837 and mayor of San Antonio in 1841. He spent a lot of his time trying to ease tensions between locals and the growing influx of Anglos and land speculators, many of whom didn’t make a distinction between Tejano and Mexican.

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Newspapers had carried accounts of the Alamo and Goliad nationwide, which spurred a wave of newcomers to Texas in search of vengeance and glory. The problem was, the war was over. These “volunteers” decided to stay anyways and immediately began causing trouble for local populations.

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Animosity mounted. Rumors were spread that Tejanos were collaborating with Mexican nationalists and Native Americans to overthrow the newly-formed Texan government. Seguín’s loyalties were questioned and he was falsely charged with abetting Mexican attacks on San Antonio.

Amid suspicion, controversy, and death threats, Seguín was forced to flee. He sought asylum in Mexico but was imprisoned for his role in the Texas Revolution. He was coerced to join the Mexican army in 1842, and took part in a series of invasions to reclaim Texas, which Mexico didn’t recognize as a sovereign state. Back home, his defection served as “proof” of the rumors, vindicating his enemies. This further stoked tensions between Tejano and Anglo citizens.

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When the Mexican War ended, Seguín returned to Texas determined to rebuild his family’s life. The area had changed, however. Many Tejanos now lived in poverty, their ranches and property stolen by the new settlers. The new frontier was violent and lawless.

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During the American Civil War, Seguín joined Benito Juarez in Mexico to overthrow the French, ending in the victory now celebrated as Cinco de Mayo. He later became active in local Texas politics, serving as Wilson County judge in 1869. He eventually moved to Mexico to be near his children, and passed away in 1890.

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Each page of this book is painstakingly pencilled, inked, and hand-lettered by Jackson himself. His extensive research sheds light on a largely forgotten American hero and details his countrymen’s contributions to Texan independence, the memories of which were almost erased during a time of rampant racism and violence.

Jackson ends on a high note, however. In the book’s afterword he leaves this uplifting sentiment, a reminder to learn from the past and to be peaceful to others.

But the story was not all as ugly and grim as I may have led the reader to suspect. Like any other clash of cultures, the human spirit soared as well as staggered during the experience. Then, as now, many people maintained their respect for each other; they lived together, worked together, and sought to make Texas a better place for all its citizens. Their courageous example should not be overlooked amidst all the blood and thunder, for in the end, it will triumph.

During a Bicentennial ceremony on July 4, 1976, his remains were moved from Mexico and reinterred in Seguín, Texas – his namesake town. A bronze statue of Juan in the town park now honors his memory.

Juan Seguín Memorial
Photo: Andrew Butler  Artist: Erik Christianson

If you’d like to read this book yourself, Los Tejanos is still published by Fantagraphics and can be found at booksellers like Barnes & Noble. Thanks for reading!

Sources:

Handbook of Texas Online, Jesús F. de la Teja, “Seguin, Juan Nepomuceno,” accessed February 16, 2016, https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fse08.

Schmal, John P. The Hispanic Experience – Tejanos in the Texas Revolution. http://www.houstonculture.org/hispanic/alamo.html

Texas State Library and Archives Commission, “Juan Seguín,” accessed February 28, 2016, https://www.tsl.texas.gov/treasures/giants/seguin/seguin-01.html.

Witek, Joseph. Comic Books as History: The Narrative Art of Jack Jackson, Art Spiegelman, and Harvey Pekar (Studies in Popular Culture). 1st ed. U of Mississippi, 1989. Print.

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