Prof. Trinidad Gonzalez Seeks Truth and Reconciliation from Texas RangersHistorians in the News
tags: racism, Mexican American history, Texas Rangers, Texas history
She didn’t see the gunshot, but it happened close enough for her to hear.
It was 1915, and los rinches — the Texas Rangers — were killing Mexicans, Mexican Americans and hundreds of other people with relative impunity. On this particular day, September 16, members of the widely feared police force were questioning a woman named Santos Gamboa and her family at a ranch near Edinburg, Texas.
“The Rangers were apparently talking to her,” Trinidad Gonzales said of Gamboa, recounting the scene for a Texas Monthly podcast. Then, “they pulled her husband and her father-in-law to the side.”
That’s when the shot rang out.
Growing up, Gonzales heard this story several times. His father would tell him over barbecue, or his mother would tell him over coffee and pan dulce. He would learn, for instance, that his grandmother was 15 months old on the day of the murder, and he learned how Gamboa laid her husband and her father-in-law to rest in a nearby cemetery before starting over. Gamboa would eventually own cattle and a store, and many years later, a young Gonzales would buy candy from that same store. In other words, Gamboa survived as well as she could in the years before and after La Matanza: a decade of anti-Mexican violence perpetrated by men like the Rangers. But like hundreds — maybe thousands — of victims, survivors and family members from the same time period, she never got closure.
Her great-grandson hopes to change that.
On Thursday, February 23, Trinidad Gonzales, a history professor at South Texas College, sent a formal letter to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the state’s Speaker of the House and multiple chiefs of staff for politicians in the Rio Grande Valley. The objective of the letter, Gonzales tells the Observer, is to finally begin the healing process for families who, like his own, lost loved ones to the state-sanctioned violence carried out by the Texas Rangers.
"The first thing I think everyone needs to understand is this is an issue of justice,” Gonzales says. The letter puts the ball in Texas’ court. “Are they going to be on the side of justice or injustice? It's not a left or right issue; it should be bipartisan."
Specifically, Gonzales is asking the state to create an investigatory “truth and reconciliation” commission that will, according to his letter, “allow families and communities of Texas to be heard.” Their focus would be the years between 1836 and 1980, during which the Rangers murdered hundreds. According to journalist Doug Swanson’s book Cult of Glory, the fabled law enforcement unit was at one point as feared as the Ku Klux Klan.
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