Rebirth of Our Nationality

Today I sought out Leo Tanguma’s mural on Canal Street titled The Rebirth of Our Nationality, completed in 1973 during the Chicano mural movement. All of this got me thinking about the place of Mexican Americans in Houston. The inscription along the top of the mural reads: “To become aware of our
history is to become aware of our singularity.” The slogan was used to draw
attention to the Mexican-American struggle for dignity. Let’s remember that before Houston was Houston, TX, USA it was Harrisburg; and before Harrisburg, TX in The Republic of Texas (a sovereign nation) was Harrisburg, it was a colony of the Republic of Mexico settled largely by Anglos (yes, whities under colonial Mexican rule); and before that the area we call Houston was actually part of New Spain, vastly unsettled, boasting not much more than a few monks who “kept” Indians for work and conversion to Christianity. In fact, it seems as though enough power changed hands enough times that practically everyone could have claimed themselves as native, colonist, illegal, or documented citizen depending on the decade.

 

The black and white photo was taken in 1986 and I scanned it from a history book. The color photo was taken this afternoon. Mural damage is due equally to neglect and
politics (some of Tanguma’s murals in Texas have been completely
vandalized or destroyed by naysayers). According to the Texas State Historical Association, the Chicano mural
movement of the 60’s and 70’s used many public buildings and corridors
to “depict themes common to Chicano muralism, such as mestizo heritage
or social problems, but they also tell unique stories about the ‘merging
of ideas, cultures, and dreams’ along the United States-Mexico border. The word Chicano came into more popular use in the 1960’s as a militant term for la raza (the race). At that time, roughly 10% of Houston residents identified as Mexican- or Hispanic-American. Today, that number is over 40% even though, as many Texas historians are enthusiastic to point out, Houston’s “roots” are Anglo/white. Much of historic downtown was in fact purchased and laid out by the Allen Brothers–two dudes from Brooklyn with a lot of cash.

It’s enough political and ethnic and historic confusion to make me throw up my hands but instead I think I’ll return to Tanguma’s wisdom from The Rebirth: “To become aware of our
history is to become aware of our singularity.”

15 of 25 Ways of Looking at Houston: Detail of Leo Tanguma’s “The Rebirth of Our Nationality,” East End, Houston, Texas, 2011.

Today’s NY Times title prompt: “Guess Who’s Not Coming”

Showing 4 comments
  • Anonymous
    Reply

    Excellent article! Here's a picture I took this afternoon about a mile away on Harrisburg at some abandoned warehouses where a graffiti artist did a small rendition of Tanguma's "The Rebirth of Our Nationality,". Thought you might like.
    Have an awesome day!

    http://bit.ly/txhXHa

  • Katey Schultz
    Reply

    So cool. Thank you for sharing that! I wish the original could be as vibrant as the one in the photo you took!

  • Anonymous
    Reply

    The guys in the flower are also in the Rex mural at Everton and Harrisburg. I think the one shown, at Eastwood and Harrisburg has been painted over by now.

  • Lydia
    Reply

    I’m 36 now and I remember being 5 yrs old seeing this mural every morning on my way to school. At that time I had so many questions and no one could really answer. I would stare at it asking myself Why is the lady crying? Why is the man tied up? Why there is no face on one man only? But because of this mural I enjoy art today and now I want my son to enjoy it to. Just stop by today and its beautiful. Restoration was made impeccable. Every memory came back couldn’t hold back tears.

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