Origins of the Tejano Education Movement

Page 5 of Eleuterio Escobar's Autobiography Final Draft

Escobar writes about the poor quality of life in the border region between 1915 and 1916. From the Eleuterio Escobar papers, 1906-1971

Access to and quality of education in Mexico declined severely after 1910 when the Mexican Revolution began. Many Mexicans moved to the United States (or sent their children alone to the United States) to provide their children with better educational opportunities. These refugees placed a greater demand on an education that retained Hispanic identity and language. With the segregation of U.S. schools, Hispanic educational institutions in Texas were under-funded and under-equipped and struggled to handle the influx of new Hispanic individuals into the Tejano community. This challenge was most prominent in the Southern Texas cities along the border, which saw the greatest influx of refugees and suffered the most economically from the turmoil the revolution brought to the border region.

Eleuterio Escobar was born in a border city, Laredo, Texas, in 1894. Escobar was a salesman who operated primarily in San Antonio but spent much of the 1910s working in the border region and coming into close contact with the poverty and lack of access to education in this area. The images included here are excerpts from Escobar's autobiography and span Escobar's time in the border region from 1915 to 1916. Although the entirety of the 1910s was a dangerous period in this region, 1915 through 1916 coincided with a period during the revolution where violence along the border reached an all-time high with Pancho Villa’s raid on the United States and U.S. General Pershing’s expedition into Mexico.

In his autobiography, Escobar discusses the poverty of the region. He discusses how wages could be as low as "40 to 50 cents per hour," and that all of these low earning laborers were Mexican Americans. He continues to discuss how his Hispanic customers in this region were largely illiterate, how large families of 8 were crammed into "filthy and dilapidated houses" built for 1 or 2 people, sanitation problems were rampant, and that most of the children were not attending school. And of the children attending school, they "were not receiving an adequate education."

Page 6 of Eleuterio Escobar's Autobiography Final Draft

Escobar writes about his desire to fight for Hispanic educational equality. From the Eleuterio Escobar papers, 1906-1971

Moved by his experiences at the border, Escobar wrote that in 1916, he would involve himself in the "greatest struggle for educational emancipation that this city of the Alamo [San Antonio] has ever witnessed." This powerful line captures the 18-year fight Escobar would wage in advocating for improved school facilities for Mexican American children. The Mexican Revolution's upheaval and turmoil that spread across the border region inspired Escobar to seek out change for the Tejano community. Escobar would found or become a member of some of the early organizations that advocated for educational equality. For example, Escobar founded "Liga Defensa Escolar" in San Antonio and joined other movements for Mexican American rights like the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the Knights of America. Individuals like Escobar, and organizations like LULAC and the Liga Defensa Escolar were an important foundation for Tejano activism in the 20th century.