Bud Kennedy

When Texas declared independence, these 2 proud native Texans were there

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Yes, Texas has a Washington. It’s 30 miles south of Aggieland.

But in March 1836, when 59 leaders met here to declare Texas’ independence from Mexico, there were only two native Texans among them.

Both were Latinos. San Antonio native Jose Francisco Ruiz and his nephew, Jose Antonio Navarro, were the only signers of the Declaration of Independence who were not immigrants. Both were born in Texas under Spanish rule.

Ruiz, 53, had sided both with and against Mexico as a military officer, city councilman and founder of San Antonio’s first schools. Navarro, 41, had served in Congress in Mexico representing the then-state of Coahuila y Tejas.

Along with the Republic of Texas’ Yucatan-born Vice President Lorenzo de Zavala and Battle of San Jacinto hero Col. Juan Seguin, they were Latinos who helped liberate Texas, then saw Anglos turn against them.

But in 1836, Ruiz and Navarro were among Texas leaders who gathered at a ferry landing on the Brazos River. (They called it “Washington-on-the-Brazos” to distinguish it from D.C.)

In a San Antonio Express-News series on that city’s history, Witte Museum curator Amy Fulkerson said Ruiz, later a state senator, was a remarkable figure who had spent 10 years in exile in Louisiana after escaping capture at the 1813 Battle of Medina, an earlier Texan and Tejano uprising.

“He’s unique in how active he was in all of these key events that really helped define our community early on,” Fulkerson said: “It’s incredible for a single lifetime.”

The house where he taught San Antonio’s first public school remains preserved at the museum.

Navarro’s work spans the entire nearly-10-year history of the Republic of Texas, and he served in the Texas Senate after that.

He not only signed the declaration but also served at the 1845 annexation convention before Texas merged with the U.S. by joint resolution.

Helping write the first Texas state constitution, he protected Latinos’ right to vote, according to David R. McDonald, author of “Jose Antonio Navarro: In Search of the American Dream,” as quoted in the Express-News.

Later, when Anglo immigrants showed racial hostility toward Latinos, he spoke out on behalf of Tejanos’ role in Texas independence.

“Navarro never swerved from his decision to support Texas independence,” McDonald wrote.

“ … At the same time, he never deviated from his adherence to the language, culture and values of his Mexican origin. To the end he was a true Mexican-American who sought and reached the American Dream.”

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Columnist Bud Kennedy is a Fort Worth guy who covered high school football at 16 and has moved on to two Super Bowls, seven political conventions and 16 Texas Legislature sessions. First on the scene of a 1988 DFW Airport crash, he interviewed passengers running from the burning plane. He made his first appearance in the paper before he was born: He was sold for $600 in the adoption classifieds.

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