Armas No. 16 — Echoes of Nuevo Santander
An unmoving people, an unknowing nation.
One of the interesting phenomena I’ve uncovered in the pursuit of my family’s genealogy is what I have come to think of as the persistence of Nuevo Santander. I mentioned it in Armas No. 2, and it’s worth revisiting the relevant passage here:
[O]ur antecedents for the most part decided to remove themselves to what is now northern Mexico in the late 1500s and early 1600s, and then participated in the Escandón colonizations of Nuevo Santander in the mid-1700s. They haven’t moved since, until literally the last generation, and so there are multiple lines of descent from singular figures, the same names across three- to five-hundred years, common ancestries for nearly everyone, and so on. (Just this week, I emailed a woman I have never met, on a genealogical issue, and it emerged that we have a common ancestor in early nineteenth-century Laredo. This would be somewhat unusual and cause for remark among the general U.S. population, but it is the exceptionally common norm among south-Texas Mexican-Americans.) It is a network of communities that set itself in a place and then turned inward for endless and violent centuries.
It is worth exploring a bit, because it illuminates something that I think is not particularly well understood in general consciousness. Readers here know that I am deeply convicted of the necessity for roots: connectedness to the past as the only real instruction for the present, a sense of community and continuity to which an active allegiance is a positive good, and remembrance of antecedents as imposing a fruitful obligation to the inheritor. Those better-read than me, which is an expansive cohort, tell me that Simone Weil’s 1943 L'Enracinement covers much of this ground, no doubt in greater and more-coherent detail. We also discussed it briefly in “The Sense of Place” late last year here at Armas.
The inheritors of the Nuevo-Santander colonization strike me as an extraordinary and deeply interesting example of a meta-community that should be an example of this rootedness. The Escandón colonizers went forth at the apogee of Spanish-Bourbon expansion in the Americas — you’ll sometimes see José de Escandón described as the last of the conquistadors, although I think this an exaggeration — and established their communities scattered up both banks of Rio Grande from the sea to several hundred miles inland. As mentioned above, their succeeding generations stayed. No meaningful addition nor subtraction to this population occurred for the next two centuries or so. Even the eventual permanent division of Nuevo Santander into Texan and Mexican halves — the latter subsumed into the present-day states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo León — did not especially affect the cultural unity at hand. When pressed to choose, the children of Nuevo Santander positively opted for Mexican rule over Texan or American: this was the origin of the city of Nuevo Laredo, founded in 1848 by Laredoans who refused to live under American sovereignty. But these were acts of a minority. To borrow a phrase, for most of the Nuevo Santander descendants, the border crossed them.
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