Arts & Culture

Written by Moisés Acuña Gurrola

As detailed in Schools & Churches, Americanization efforts mostly failed to achieve their main goal of separating immigrants from their traditional cultures and identities to make room for more socially acceptable Anglo-American customs. Proponents of Americanization organizations failed to understand that ethnic Mexican and American identities were not mutually exclusive. A person of Mexican descent could indeed speak and understand two languages, maintain their ethnic pride while remaining loyal to the United States, look to curanderas for alternate spiritual and physical healing while remaining loyal Christians, and raise a family with or without the family structure preferred by Anglo Americans that placed males at the head of the household.

In addition to hosting jamaicas, barrio churches hosted Mexican Independence Day and Cinco de Mayo festivals. Additionally, parades served as public displays of cultural and ethnic pride. Juanita Salinas details the obstacles that prevented such celebrations and she discusses how the yearly parade has been weaved into mainstream Fort Worth culture. Rey Martinez talks about folk healers in South Texas, which also had a strong presence in Fort Worth’s Latino communities, and Victor Espino gives an overview of the committees and planning that go into 16 Septiembre celebrations.

The churches also sponsored sports teams and leagues that proved important to Fort Worth’s Latino youth, who finally had found a haven from institutions that viewed them as inferior or a burden at best. Even when they excelled at school sports, they were susceptible to racist threats.[1] But in the church league, youths could perform as well (or as badly) as they could without the threat of violent confrontations. It gave youths the opportunity to embrace their cultural heritage with team names like the Aztecas, los Indios, and los Morelos (named after the state in south-central Mexico). When they were not playing baseball, Latino youths played football and trained in boxing. And with the most recent wave of Latino immigration and growth of community-operated organizations known as casas de inmigrantes, Latino youths and adults have organized soccer leagues and competitive boxing tournaments. In the videos below, Victor Espino describes the growth of community organizations that provide recreational facilities among other things; Ernest Gutierrez tells us about the organized church baseball league and other informal sports competitions in the North Side barrios; Luis Flores tells about his involvement in the city league; and Tony Castillo explains how baseball led him to gain steady employment after the Texas Steel plant closed down. 

Since the first Latinos arrived in Fort Worth, the city has featured a plethora of Latino performers. Several Spanish-surnamed residents in the late nineteenth century were listed in city directories as actors or performers. But as Juanita Salinas explained above, winning the City’s recognition of Latinos in its history has required resilience and constant pressure from the community. This was also the case of the Ballet Folklorico Azteca, now regarded as a Fort Worth institution. Carol Alvarado, in the videos below, narrates a history of the Ballet Folklorico Azteca and the restoration of the historic Rose Marine Theater led by local community group Artes de la Rosa.

Fort Worth’s history of Latino performing arts does not end with dance and theatre. The city has had a long history of producing local musicians as well, but it too falls into the trajectory of receiving little attention in the mainstream. In the following clips, Emerico Perez describes the introduction of the first Tejano music station, promoting the genre across town and booking musicians from major labels. Juanita Salinas details her work in promoting Latino music and Renteria talks about his experiences as a musician and promoter in Fort Worth.

Self-identification and political orientation regularly go hand-in-hand and inspire artistic expressions. For Latino Fort Worth, its history is one of complexity, diversity, resistance, and resilience, all of which converge to produce a wide range of identities and subsequent art forms. The narrators in the following video clips discuss self-identification and the different terms Latinos use to describe themselves. Tammy Gomez explains how time and space influence artistic expression and describes Fort Worth as a source of creativity for her as a Chicana feminist poet.

The narrations on the culture and art that Fort Worth’s Latino population created, modified, and curated only skim the surface of the many cultural productions forgotten in time, overlooked and deemed inferior to “high” or mainstream culture. Hip-hop artistsrock bands, lowrider clubs, professional athletes, playwrights, authors, muralists, graffiti artists, and poets have all contributed to the steady evolution of Fort Worth’s Latino culture. Still, the video clips above remind us about the value of early Hispanic pioneers’ struggles to bring the community as a whole from the peripheries to the forefront of Fort Worth’s cultural diversity.

[1] Cuellar, Stories from the Barrio, 134-139. 

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