basque jews / El Calaboz / gun culture / indigenous women's law / lipan apache women / memorial lydia esparza garcia / nuevo santander / south Texas

Gun Culture–South Texas: Columbus’ Legacy of Violence & Indigenous People–October 12, 2008


On the Cavazos-Garcia land in El Calaboz Rancheria, the ground is frequently rifled with bullets and shotgun shells. One need not walk but a few feet from the levee to see the shells and casings in plain site. There are more of these along my mother’s land and her portion of the levee than on the lands on either side of her’s. She has been the most vocal and publically outspoken against oppression, racism, and violence. The border wall is but one of the numerous ‘events’ which the people of El Calaboz have endured.

Since the arrival of the Europeans, our families have lived for centuries propelled into conflicts and tension with settler societies. Settler immigrant groups from other continents arrived in several waves since the late 1400’s. They have contributed many harsh memories to the indigenous people’s oral history of life, and death, along the Lower Rio Grande.

In addition to deprivations and depredations the indigenous suffered under Jose Escandon and Spanish-Basque settler hacendado regimes, Cameron County would continue to be an epi-center for pogroms, ethnic cleansing and genocide. Between 1910-1915 nearly 5,000 indigenous people were lynched, burned alive, dismembered, decapitated, and sexually assaulted by the “South Texas Machine.” Many of our ancestors–men, women and children–lost their lives at the hands of para-military forces mechanized and supported by the regions’ elites–the white-ethnic ranching families, whose colonizing ancestors had dispossessed earlier generations of Apaches and other indigneous peoples. History repeated itself with a new immigrant-white group of Southern Creed cotton industrial capitalists. In South Texas, the system’s prey are our ancestors, and our living and breathing and very much alive families– the indigneous people of this region.

The unexamined ‘customary’ privilege of the mainstream culture of South Texas, which glorifies the use of armed violence also sustains the myth of “Texas” masculinity as a celebrated icon of white settler identity. This social construct empowers a system of structural violence, privileging an elite few, and has bloody consequences for Native American people of the Lower Rio Grande. Like our foremothers and forefathers who were victims of white xenophobia and the ranching class systems–we have not ‘vanished’, nor have we been ‘conquered.’ However, those of us who have stayed on our lands–under Texas private property laws–have done so with increasing threats to our lives and livelihoods. The border wall is yet one more pogrom, ethnic cleansing and genocidal policy against Native American people on both sides of its proposed perimeter.

Removing the cobwebs and rust off of the so-call buried histories of the genocidal past gives us opportunities to see reflections and understandings of the current situations we face under the threat of tyrannical government. Uncovering the bloody histories upon which the wealthy agriculture and ranching elites in South Texas is founded allows a critical space for Native American survivor communities to speak, be heard and claim political and social spaces.

Tragically, indigenous communities along the Lower Rio Grande have become enmeshed in numerous forms of colonial violence used as tools to keep subordinated groups under the control of colonial systems and in perpetual dependency. De-Colonial history recover is necessary in order to publically confront the ghosts and demons of our collective histories, and to recover public spaces for commitments to truth and healing.

These bullet casings pepper the ground and levee, in El Calaboz all the way up to Redford, Texas, where I filled yet another ziplock bag full.

I fill gallon-size, zip-lock bags of shot-gun shells and bullets all along my grandfathers’, great grandmothers’, great aunts’, and great great grandfathers, and great great great grandfathers…… and on and on and on and on… our home, our lands.

This is the archaeology of contemporary Lipan Apache women, the archaeology that documents and archives the negative impacts and consequences of the gun culture. The current generations confronting these issues sometimes must take on the past terror and its evidences in order to re-fuel and re-mobilize productive work of dismantling structural oppression –for all people in South Texas, where we live, and where we will live on and on.

October 12, 2008
Margo Tamez

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