Nativo explores cowboy symbolism in relation to the Charreada, a Mexican rodeo whose traditions pre-date the frontiersman folklore of the American West. The images illuminate how the globally recognized Texan icons – the horse, the lasso, the cowboy –are deeply rooted in the strong and distinctive Hispanic culture.
I hope that this project, in honoring the modern day Charros and their role in the development of Texan mythology, challenges the prevailing narratives and brings some nuance and humility to the ongoing debate about American identity.
The Texas Cowboy - The History
The area which is now Texas was part of the vast area claimed by the Spanish crown. The peaceful natives that met the expedition announced their peaceful intentions by shouting friends in their language. The word for friends in that language was Thechas, which the Spanish wrote as Tejas and used as the name for the natives. The Spanish version Tejas was converted into Texias by the Anglo immigrants. Those immigrants called themselves Texians for a period of time before the spellings took the modern forms of Texas and Texans.
When Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1810 the Mexican government demanded that all officials in the government and church take an oath denying their allegiance to Spain. Many Spanish in the missions in Texas decided to leave Mexico rather than take that oath. With the loss of population Texas was in danger of losing all semblance of civilization and the Mexican Government accepted proposals for the immigration of colonists from the United States.
The immigrants poured in by the thousands. Most were farmers from the southern states of the U.S. looking for cheap land. The terms of the Mexican law would give the immigrants up to 277 acres if they declared that they were farmers but an additional 4338 acres if they declared they would raise livestock. The American farmers were familiar with raising livestock but in small numbers on small acreage using foot rather than on horseback.
The offer of 4338 acres for declaring that they would raise livestock was irresistible. But to follow through on their declarations they had to learn the Mexican system for raising livestock. The Americans did not even have a word for this large-scale stock raising. They had to adopt the Spanish word rancho and adopt the techniques for ranching that had been developed in Mexico. This meant the lariat “lasso” and the Mexican style saddle. It also meant the sombrero and the chaps. It meant the adoption of a large variety of Spanish words such as rodeo for the semi-annual roundup of cattle. The very name cowboy for the mounted herdman of cattle is almost a direct translation of the Spanish word vaquero from vaca meaning cow.