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40 Years Later: Making the Improbable Real

Fall 2009

Since its appearance as a play in 1959 and then as
a Broadway musical in 1965, “Man of La Mancha” has
brought to a popular audience the enduring central
message of Cervantes’s masterpiece. The impossible
dream. Identity is a made thing. We can decide what and
whom we will be. Hearts and minds can change and, even
if the Earth does not move, the human spirit can soar far
beyond its meager clothing of flesh, its bounded identity
in time and place. We can even experience, against all
rational expectations, reality altered by the power of the
spirit, the conviction of the soul.
But the process is not an easy one. A quotidian
dullness neutralizes heroic action; the hungry soul
imagines dreams and truth to be one. In one of his first
sallies, don Quijote, ablaze with the dream of his beautiful
lady, stops a group of merchants on their way to market
in Toledo and demands that they share his faith.
“What matters is that without seeing her (Dulcinea),
you are to believe in her beauty, to confess, affirm,
swear, and defend it. If not, I challenge you to combat,”
don Quijote tells the startled merchants. Stupefied, the
merchants ask before they are to swear for a picture of
Dulcinea: “A small one will do, even if it is the size of a
grain of sand.” Enraged at their insistence that a dream
must assume a palpable presence before it can be acted
upon, don Quijote charges the group. His nag stumbles.
He falls and suffers a sound thrashing at the hands of a
strong and slightly irritated young man.
A university is about an imagined future, a dreamed
identity, a new life, laid hold of slowly as a student pursues
his or her studies. It was a dream of new life for all South
Texas that created Texas A&M International University.
Long before Governor Ann Richards turned that initial
spade of dirt in February 1994, Laredoans and South
Texans first imagined a better way and then, like don
Quijote, set about to bring it into being. The obstacles, far
more formidable than the merchants don Quijote faced,
were attitudinal, material, political, a cyclical pattern
of exclusion that had long kept the dream of higher
education for this region a seemingly impossible one.
Like don Quijote, citizens and elected officials
continued to push and to press, to rage and to insist, to
plot and to promise, until the dream of new life began
to acquire a body. And that body, this magnificent new
campus, continues to grow and develop: hope given
corporeal form, no longer impossible, just enormously
difficult to create.
As we celebrate our 40th year, reflections upon the
creation of Texas A&M International University assert
forcefully a lesson well-known to Cervantes. The larger
and more improbable, the more pharaonic the dream,
the greater the possibility that it may become true. The
task to build this University, the zeal to see it become
real, awakened in Laredo both an energy and strength
beyond anything seen since colonial days. Our legislators
in Austin and leaders and philanthropists in the Laredo
community imagined what could not be, and it was.
When contemplating our Laredo miracle, gazing over
the beauty of these marvelous and fermosas salidas, a
wise man captured well the dream, its challenge, and its

“It must be,” he said, “that the first 250 years are the


Ray M. Keck III

Professor of Spanish
Texas A&M International University

5201 University Boulevard, Laredo, TX 78041-1900 Work956.326.2100