Each year, we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 through October 15 in order to reflect on the tremendous historical and cultural contributions that Hispanics have made in our communities. There is no place that this rich history is more evident than right here in the 23rd Congressional District of Texas. From the Mission Trail in El Paso to the one in San Antonio, we proudly display centuries of Hispanic achievements that make this part of the state unique from any other place in the nation. While we celebrate our Hispanic Heritage all year long in South and West Texas, it’s great to pause and use this month as an opportunity to highlight some of the great Hispanic-Americans who have impacted the course of our history.
In Tornillo and the El Paso area, a name you’ve likely heard is Marcelino Serna. He was a real hero who, during two World War I battles in France, killed thirty-two enemy soldiers and single-handedly captured twenty-four Germans. For his acts of courage and honor, Private Serna was honored by the U.S. Army with two Purple Hearts and the Distinguished Service Cross, the highest honor that a soldier can receive after the Medal of Honor. This was presented by General John J. Pershing, and Serna became the most decorated World War I Veteran from Texas. In addition to receiving these honors, he received two “Croix de Guerre”, the highest honor in France, one of which was presented to him by the Supreme Commander of Allied troops in Europe, Ferdinand Foch. He was buried with full military honors at Fort Bliss National Cemetery.
Honoring him became one of my legislative priorities when I was first elected in 2014. The newly-named Tornillo-Marcelino Serna Port of Entry is a constant reminder not just of his tremendous accomplishments but also of the countless Mexican-American immigrants that have risked their own lives to keep our nation safe.
As you work your way west in TX-23 among its 29 counties, you’ll find Zavala County, which is named after Lorenzo de Zavala. He was the interim Vice President of the newly founded Republic of Texas, and also was a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence from Mexico. By the time that Zavala arrived in Texas in July 1835, he had already held office on the local, state and national levels in the Mexican Colonial, Imperial, and National governments. Zavala’s legislative, executive, ministerial, and diplomatic experience, together with his education and linguistic ability, uniquely qualified him for the role he was to play in the drafting of the constitution of the Republic of Texas. Lorenzo de Zavala was buried at his home in a small cemetery plot marked by the state of Texas in 1931.
The eastern most part of my district includes my hometown of San Antonio – The Alamo City. An often-unsung hero of the infamous Battle of the Alamo was Andrea Castañón Villanueva, better known as Madam Candelaria. Madam Candelaria was a mother of four and raised twenty-two orphans. She nursed the sick and aided the poor. It is said that she was inside the Alamo during the 1836 battle and nursed the ailing Jim Bowie. Since evidence of survivors was sparse, this claim was never confirmed, but in 1891 the Texas Legislature granted her a pension of twelve dollars a month honoring her as an official Alamo survivor and for her work with smallpox victims in San Antonio. Madam Candelaria is buried in San Fernando Cemetery.
We should celebrate the remarkable contributions of local legends like Private Serna, Lorenzo de Zavala and Madam Candelaria, because every aspect of South and West Texas culture is interwoven with achievements of Hispanic Americans. This fact is not just something to honor this month, but for the rest of the year.