Felix H. Garcia on Little Mexico and Dallas’ “Mexican Colony” — 1935

by Paula Bosse

little-mexico_william-lester_DMA_1930“Little Mexico” by William Lester (DMA, ©The Estate of William L. Lester)

by Paula Bosse

As many in the city celebrate el 16 de Septiembre today, I’m posting a lengthy essay on Little Mexico and the role its residents played in the city’s daily life, written by Dallas attorney and civic leader Felix H. Garcia for The Dallas Morning News on its 50th anniversary. It appeared on October 1, 1935 (sadly, without accompanying photographs or illustrations).

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“Little Mexico, A Poverty-Stricken and Gaunt Lilliputian, Basks In Glory of Dallas’ Gulliver”

by Felix H. Garcia (written especially for The News)
© The Dallas Morning News, 1935

CORRELE! ANDALE!” (“RUN! HURRY!”)

The bell had rung in Cumberland Hill School on North Akard at Cochran and Munger and the children swarmed to gain entrance to the building, excitedly shouting this and other expressions in Spanish.

Later in the classrooms the students, predominantly Mexican, went about their duties under the guidance of Anglo-Saxon teachers. In the art classes a veritable museum of Mexican drawings, pottery and wood carving, products of the pupils therein, greeted the eyes of the visitor.

Beyond the school, to the northwest, from Lamar to Akard and Cedar Springs and extending to Standpipe Hill on the northwest and the city dump and the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad tracks on the southwest is a Latin colony of 6,000. McKinney, from Lamar to Akard, is its main street of restaurants, barber shops, bakeries, shoe hospitals, grocery stores and meat markets, with an occasional dark and dreary dry goods shop, outside of which indolently and perennially sits on a straight chair reclined against the wall a member of the Jewish race.

GULLIVER AND THE LILLIPUTIANS

Irregular, narrow, twisted, unpaved streets, flanked by ancient wooden houses and by wooden shacks grouped closely, as if the inhabitants would have only to thrust a hand out the side window to shake their neighbor’s hand in greeting a buenos dias, while near by stand sky-reaching smokestacks and comparatively enormous buildings — that is the contrast of Little Mexico. The huge structures, to none of which Little Mexico lays even a remote claim, mock an eloquent spectacle of opulence in the heart of the colony, the majority of whose residents have neither a cupboard wherein to keep their bread nor bread to put in their cupboard.

This Latin section bustles, struggles, sings, plays, mourns, worships in its many churches, dons its holiday attire at the 16 de Septiembre and Cinco de Mayo festivals, educates its progeny, cares for its needy and willingly and readily abides by the laws of its adopted State and city. It palpitates, calmly or with re-echoing exultance, in the very shadows of the towering business and industrial district of this metropolis of viaducts and the Texas Centennial Central Exposition, a modern conception of the legendary Lilliputians face to face with the monstrously oversized athletes.

MEXICAN INFLUENCE IN DALLAS

The mother country, Old Mexico, has assisted this prodigal Little Mexico in winning recognition and in spreading its influence throughout the city by sending to Dallas from time to time ambassadors of good will: distinguished citizens, famed musical organizations, athletic units and artistic and industrial exhibits to the State Fair and other special celebrations, and by making Dallas, since 1920, the Mexican consular capital of North Texas. From 1914, when isolated Mexican families were hardly able to muster enough strength to seek recognition, Little Mexico reached the zenith of its population in 1920 with 10,000 descendants of Cuauhtemoc. Side by side with Dallas of 1920, the 159,000 inhabitants, it enjoyed the boom of the postwar period, and was accepted as a significant addition to the latter city . That year Mexico’s President-elect, Alvaro Obregon, his staff and the Estado Mayor Band visited Dallas. The band visited here again in 1921.

Other celebrated musical organizations played in Dallas in 1926 and in 1931 Major Ramon Hernandez and his prize-winning military band gave a series of concerts at Fair Park. In the same year the University of Mexico sent its football team to play one of the Southern Methodist University elevens and only last April the ranking civilian and army polo players from Mexico held a series of international polo matches with the Dallas polo players at El Ranchito polo grounds.

HOW IT BEGAN

Few know the beginning of Little Mexico, just as only neighbors of Mexican districts are aware that other lesser settlements dwell peacefully and peaceably in Cement City, on the Eagle Ford road a few miles west of Dallas; in a small portion of Northeast Oak Cliff and on Indiana street in East Dallas, with individual families scattered over practically every section of the city. Still fewer know that forty-nine years ago a Mexican military band was present at the first fair held here under the name of Great Texas State Fair and Dallas Exposition. The following is from the Dallas News, October 27, 1886:

On arrival … in the Exposition Hall, the Mexican band, consisting of fifty-six pieces, played an overture..

Mayor Henry Brown addressed the Mexican band in Spanish as follows: “Senores: Invocamos la bendicion de Dios sobre ustedes. El pueblo los recibe con los brazos abiertos.” To which the bandmaster, Senor Davila,  replied: “Muchas gracias.”

The same band returned for the 1887 exposition.

With a population of 30,000, Dallas could not very well visualize at that time the great center of 1935, and much less could predict the existence of a Mexican city within its limits. But twenty years later the first representative of the then anemic Little Mexico, a child of tender age, brought recognition to his colony. The circumstances surrounding this epochal incident are related by W. O. Pipes, principal of Cumberland Hill School:

One afternoon in February, 1914, a timid, underclothed and obviously underfed Mexican child, made his appearance in the Cumberland School principal’s office and asked to be taken in as a pupil. He was given food and clothing and his name was entered in the school roll – the first Mexican student anywhere in Dallas.

A modern Moses leading his people out of bondage, this child was followed by others, until today, despite the decline in the Mexican population Cumberland Hill school enrollment is 92 per cent Mexican.

EIGHT-THREE IN HIGH SCHOOL

With the discontinuance of the final year of grade school at Cumberland a few years ago, prospective graduates enroll for this last year in William B. Travis School on McKinney. M. H. Harris, principal, is authority for the statement that 10 per cent of the present student body is Mexican, thirty of whom were in this year’s graduating class.

With these graduates and with graduates from St. Ann parochial school, Dallas Technical High counted eighty-three Mexicans in its student body of 2,000 from 1935. Of the eighty-three, two boys and one girl finished high school, the girl having been chosen a member of the national honor society. Lesser numbers attend the other public and private schools in the city, with Southern Methodist University and Baylor Dental College averaging four or five Mexican students a year. One of them graduated in the law department at the Methodist institution in 1935.

ENGAGED IN EVERY OCCUPATION

What do these 6,000 Mexicans do? Hotels and restaurants find them most efficient and economical as dishwashers, bus boys, or dining room foremen; leading clothing stores retain them for their excellence as tailors; they repair and maintain much of the tracks of steam and electric railways; dexterously maneuvering pick and shovel they dig ditches with admirable zest and cheerfulness. Palatial mansions boast beautiful flower gardens because of the tender care of the Mexican yardman. Ministers, teachers, photographers, storekeepers, commercial and artistic painters, carpenters, musicians, singers, mechanics, farmers and truck drivers, these indefatigable people thus labor today and live today, betraying with a smile their bitter vicissitudes, unconcerned of manana.

And Dallas, overcome by such stoicism, finds itself on familiar grounds at the fiestas, partaking with unrestrained gusto of the spicy tacos and enchiladas; it furnishes the organist for the Sunday services at the Methodist mission, and it worships with the Roman Catholics in Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and with the Presbyterians and with the other Mexican religious bodies.

Dallas audiences drink the words of the Mexican conferencier and think the Mexican crooner is just darling; the Mexican tangoer adorable, and the Mexican music wonderful. The Dallas home on whose walls hang paintings by Rivera, Orozco, Montenegro or other great and near great Mexican artists is called blessed, and no human force will prevent the moviegoer from sitting once or twice, through a Mexican-labeled moving picture playing the highly advertised Mexican actor or actress. The multicolored zarape and woven basket, the dazzling rebozo or shawl, the blue glass product and numberless other Mexican curios and handiwork have become indispensable in the adornment of thousands of Dallas homes.

Against the avalanche of Spanish clubs Dallas has been rendered helpless, and an ever-increasing number of adults attends the Spanish classes in the Dallas evening schools, seeking to acquire a conversational knowledge of the language, as they plan to go to Mexico. Individuals, collective groups and honeymooners from the city have discovered in Monterrey, Saltillo and Mexico City the fountain of everflowing joy — the “most restful place in the world.”

Ask of every passer-by as you stand on any of the main streets in Dallas where he is going to spend his vacation this summer and one of every ten will answer “In Mexico.”

© The Dallas Morning News, 1935

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Top image: “Little Mexico” by William Lester, © The Estate of William L. Lester; Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Art Association Purchase; details here (take a super-magnified look at it here).

The Felix H. Garcia article — © The Dallas Morning News — appeared in the Oct. 1, 1935 edition of the paper; the article is viewable (but hard to read) in a PDF here.

Felix H. Garcia (1898-1981) was a naturalized American citizen, born in Guanajuato, Mexico. He arrived in Dallas in the 1920s where he began teaching Spanish night school courses while he was attending SMU Law School (I believe HE is the SMU law school grad he mentions in the article above). He was a prominent attorney and civic leader in Dallas for many years before moving in the 1950s to San Antonio, where he died in 1981. For someone who appeared countless times in local media, I was able to find only one photograph of him — from his law school days at SMU. Below, a photo from the 1931 edition of the SMU Rotunda yearbook (he would have been 33 years old at the time).

felix-garcia_1931-rotunda_smuFelix H. Garcia, SMU, 1931

Lastly, the building that housed the Cumberland Hill School mentioned in Garcia’s article is still standing downtown, at 1901 Akard. It is the oldest still-standing school building in the city; see it here. See more images of Little Mexico and West Dallas neighborhoods from this period in photos from the Dallas Public Library collection, here.

A previous Flashback Dallas post — “Diez y Seis de Septiembre!” — can be read here.

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Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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