Written by Moisés Acuña Gurrola
Although the area now known as Fort Worth, Texas, lied within the boundaries of northern Mexico prior to 1836, Tejanos and Mexican Texans did not populate it in large numbers until the early 1900s. In fact, the first instance of Spanish-surnamed denizens of Fort Worth does not appear on the historical record until the 1883-1886 Fort Worth city directory, which listed nineteen Spanish-surnamed men who most likely worked as traqueros (railroad workers) or vaqueros (cowboys). However, they did not settle permanently, a common trend for Latinos who passed through Fort Worth in the late nineteenth-century. Numbers remained low by the turn of the century with forty-three Spanish-surnamed men listed as residing in and around downtown Fort Worth in the 1905-1906 city directory.
As the U.S.’s demand for agricultural labor grew in the early 1900s, the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) simultaneously drove north thousands of Mexicans who feared being caught in the crossfire of the Mexican revolutionaries and Porfirio Díaz’s federal troops, persecution from either side, losing their land or property, or overall social, political, and economic instability. Many of the refugees landed in cities along or near the U.S.-Mexico border, but North Texas and Fort Worth also experienced a population boom during that period. By 1920, an estimated 3,785 ethnic Mexicans lived in Fort Worth. In the video clips below, we hear individuals discuss how the Mexican Revolution prompted their families’ decisions to relocate north of the border.
In the 1920s, migration from south of the border to Fort Worth slowed down. With the Mexican Revolution finally over, fewer mexicanos saw the need to move up north. Of those who arrived or were already living in Fort Worth by the early 1920s, many did not stay very long as they were assigned to work the fields in the northern and midwestern United States. Others, only 250, voluntarily repatriated after the Mexican government offered to pay for their return home. Nonetheless, the city’s Latino population grew. Some of that growth was attributed to the families who fled the Cristero War (1926-1929), although the immigration wave sparked by that conflict was not as large as the wave that occurred during the Mexican Revolution. Whatever the reasons, by 1930, approximately 4,000 people of Mexican descent resided in Fort Worth. In the video clips below, Antonio Ayala explains his family’s exodus from the Mexican state of Guanajuato in June 1927 and Santiago Diaz speaks on the repatriation of his father, who was one of 250 men who volunteered to return to Mexico with a train ticket purchased by the Mexican government.
The pace at which Mexican nationals moved to the United States declined in the 1930s and remained steady until the 1970s. With the Great Depression came increased anti-immigrant sentiment among Anglos, leading to deportation and repatriation efforts during that period. As a result, life for ethnic Mexicans in the United States–and thus their barrios, culture, schools, churches, and work–came with a new set of challenges. Following World War II, rapid urbanization again prompted drastic changes in the City of Fort Worth and among its Latino population. Families and individuals of all racial and ethnic groups relocated from small towns across the country to metropolises in search of new lives and opportunities. In Fort Worth, the barrios grew, while a few Latinos broke into the middle class and moved into the neighborhoods once reserved exclusively for the city’s Anglo population. In the videos below, the interviewees, descendants of native Tejanos, discuss their relocations from small towns to Fort Worth, and we hear about the Latino middle-class experience that came with a unique set of challenges in the 1970s.
The era from 1930 to the 1960s is marked as an one of relatively low immigration rates as compared to the periods before and after. This does not mean that immigration stopped or that the ethnic Mexican community shrunk to its pre-1910 percentages. In fact, from 1940 to 1950, the Latino population grew from approximately 5,000 people to just over 8,000. By 1970, that figure had grown to 31,478. In the videos below, we hear about some of the individuals who came to Fort Worth during that period of relatively low immigration rates and the early years of the late twentieth-century immigrant population boom. Victor Espino describes his arrival to the United States in the 1970s and Cynthia Montes talks about the barriers her mother faced upon her arrival in Fort Worth in 1964.
The Latinos who made their contribution to the city’s growth were not all born abroad. Educational and professional opportunities in the 1970s and beyond have also contributed to the growing numbers and upward mobility of Latinos in Fort Worth. With Texas Wesleyan University and Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, the University of Texas at Arlington, and the University of North Texas and Texas Woman’s University in Denton, higher education has played a major role in attracting families and individuals to the city. With a nearby military base, career servicemen and women also came to the city and eventually resided permanently. Many of the Latinos who landed in Fort Worth in their pursuit of higher education and professional opportunities eventually became leaders and mentors in their communities as outlined in Activism & Public Service. In the following videos, we learn about some of the reasons that drove some Latino business professionals, public servants, and educators to Fort Worth.
The vast array of migration experiences–times of arrival, countries or states of origin (including Tejas), economic means, education levels, and citizenship statuses of Latinos in Fort Worth–speaks to the city’s centrality in American and world history. By 1990, nearly 90,000 Latinos–immigrants, children of immigrants, grandchildren of immigrants, and native tejanos–called Fort Worth their home. That number grew to over 250,000 by 2010, according to the U.S. Census. However, this long history of Latino Fort Worth is not one without conflict, discrimination, or struggle. To learn about the barrios that most of the Latino immigrants built and arrived in, click here.