TAMIU Professor Chronicles Mexican American Impact in Landmark Ft. Worth History Book

From a restaurant owner named "Benny," whose name descends from a French military defector who sided with Benito Juárez in the 1800s to a basement office worker met accidentally, a new book by Texas A&M International University faculty member Dr. Carlos Cuéllar reveals the never-told story of the impact of the Mexican American people on Fort Worth.

Titled, "Stories from the Barrio: A History of Mexican Fort Worth" (Texas Christian University Press), by assistant professor of history Dr. Carlos Cuéllar, the book is the first attempt to trace the history of the Mexican community in Fort Worth to 1880, when many families moved to that city from Mexico and other parts of Texas in search of a better life.

Those interested in purchasing a book can do so at Cuéllar's book signing reception, to be held Tuesday, June 3, from 6-8 p.m. in the TAMIU Student Center Rotunda.

Originally a research project for his doctoral dissertation, Cuéllar's book emerged from the scholar's astonishment at how little historical documentation was previously available concerning the rise of the fastest-growing ethnic minority group in Fort Worth.

"Even though 20 percent of the population of Fort Worth is Mexican American, I found that no one had done their history," Cuéllar said, "I investigated Forth Worth history books and none of the books even included the word 'Mexican.' My goal was simply to take a previously ahistoric people and make them very visible, and note that their contributions to Fort Worth were important to the growth of that city."

Relying on Census data, city directory entries, newspaper articles and interviews with hundreds of residents he met along the way, Cuéllar records the early history of Fort Worth and generations of Texans that can be traced to the early Mexican immigrants to "Cowtown."

Starting from the earliest barrios that have now expanded to historically white neighborhoods, Cuéllar's book is a seamless collage of realities experienced by those who saw everything -- including the clash between traditional Mexican and American values, the rise of the entrepreneurial class among Mexican Americans, the Chicano movement and aspirations by Mexican Americans to public office.

Through the help of a church secretary named Hope Ayala, Cuéllar met a multitude of residents who opened their homes and hearts to share their stories for his book. As a result, he said he experienced the power of oral history in recounting the past.

"I realized the importance of oral history and the importance of school children asking about their parents' lives because once they are gone, those stories are gone forever," Cuéllar said, "If anything, I would like this book to demonstrate that people need to be more aware of their family's history and roots and to promote a desire to investigate their roots."

Cuéllar said he hopes the residents who helped bring the project to fruition will receive the book with open arms.

"I hope that people from Fort Worth will rejoice and be happy that someone finally acknowledged the contribution and experience of their lives. It's a previously untold story that I think is a rich story," he said.

He also said he hopes his work will encourage further research in the area.

" I think this is a start and I hope it'll spur more people to do similar work," he said, "I hope this will be a tip of the iceberg and that more of the iceberg will be uncovered."

A faculty member at TAMIU since 1995, Cuéllar holds a Ph.D. in Latin American history from Texas Christian University.

For further information on Cuéllar's book, please contact the Office of Public Affairs and Information Services at 326-2180, e-mail pais@tamiu.edu or visit offices located in the Sue and Radcliffe Killam Library, room 268.

University summer office hours will be 7:30 a.m. -6 p.m. Monday through Thursday. All offices are closed on Fridays.

Journalists who need additional information or help with media requests and interviews should contact the Office of Public Affairs and Information Services at pais@tamiu.edu