Our Hispanic roots run deep in Colorado County. In fact, Spanish was the first European language spoken here by our early explorers. ‘Hispanic’ embraces all native speakers of Spanish or of native Spanish-speaking ancestry. ‘Latino’ is more currently used today to refer to those natives or ancestors of Latino American countries such as Mexico, the Caribbean, and South and Central America. The word ‘Hispanic’ embraces all, and has deep history throughout the country and world.
National Hispanic Heritage Month reminds us of our local Spanish heritage. It was named in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan, a reminder that the Hispanic population and heritage continue to grow not only in Texas but also in Colorado County. Until the early 1900s there were few Hispanics in our area. They have contributed mightily to our county and local growth and development.
Many of our first Mexican families came for work on building railroads and for other construction in building our towns. Many were attracted to the county, especially around the Eagle Lake area due to an abundance of farming, and the rich, fertile land around Matthews, Calhoun, and Eldridge. There were cotton, cane, corn, rice, and potato fields in addition to truck-farming crops. Labor was a necessity, and work could be found. Some raised cattle and worked on ranches.
Oddly, the early Mexican Catholics had to travel to Mentz, Nada, Weimar, Frelsburg, or Columbus for baptisms and sacraments. Local mass was sometimes said in private homes, and in 1949, a Catholic Mission was established in Eagle Lake.
Many Mexican families settled permanently, educated their children, and started their own businesses, with some becoming entrepreneurs, shop owners, city employees, salesmen and women, teachers, county workers, officials, athletes and restaurant owners, and are heavily engaged in the gravel and trucking industries. As the population numbers increased, small businesses began, first to serve the Mexican community itself.
With the Hispanic population have also come many colorful traditions. Fireworks, piñatas, mariachis, enchiladas, confetti, fiestas and religious ceremonies are now a part of our culture. Church bells ring and festivities begin to celebrate Mexican Independence from Spain Day on September 16. In 1924, celebrations were held in Eagle Lake attracting more than a thousand people including the Mexican Consul, with music and dancing, popularizing the culture and native Mexican food.
Another celebration day of national renown is “Cinco de Mayo,” or the Fifth of May to recall Mexico’s defeat of the French, in 1862. The additional annual celebrations of the “Day of the Kings” in January, “Las Posadas” in December, “Semana Santa” or Holy Week, and “The Day of the Dead” add to the cultural festivities from our Hispanic friends and neighbors, as we are reminded of our Spanish heritage.