Hey, Mexico is playing Germany in the World Cup right now! Vamos El Tri! I’m gonna go watch. Maybe we’ll see a little Roo Tale magic for La Seleccion Mexicana.
This summer, it’s the end of two eras in Mexico.
Estadio Azul will be torn down this summer. The stadium, built just after World War 2, lies in the heart of Mexico City. It’s currently the home of the soccer club Cruz Azul; they’ll play in the gargantuan Estadio Azteca, until a new home is built. It has served the country well for three quarters of a century, but it’s time to move on. A final friendly soccer match was played yesterday; the stadium starts to come on July 2nd.
It’s also election time in Mexico. On July 1st, Mexicans will vote for a new Congress and President. If polls are to be believed, it will be the most significant opening of the democratic political spectrum since perhaps the 1911 election of Francisco Madero. In Mexico City, there is anticipation. And also tension.
I like to say that the story of Austin College is survival. The same can be said for Mexico. Mestizo nation that she is, Mexico is complex. Mexico is inspiration, and disappointment. Mexico is hope, and despair. Above all, Mexico is survival. The country is constantly attempting to overcome its divisions within and intervention from abroad, one country in particular. 😉 The outcome is always in doubt.
Relations between the United States and Mexico are poor. The strong bonds of international trade established a quarter century ago between the two countries are under attack, and the draconian immigration border policies of family separation and political asylum denial have provoked outrage on both sides of the border. Today, there is talk of “muros” instead of “puentes.” Much like the past.
Tension is a constant theme in the history of relations between Mexico and the Colossus of the North. There have been other periods of conflict. 1994, California, and the Mexican economic crisis. 1938, Lazaro Cardenas, and oil. Pershing and Villa. 1911, Madero, and Henry Lane Wilson. Shoot, let’s go ahead and make our way back to 1846 and the U.S.-Mexican war. One of the major players of that conflict was a future Austin College Board of Trustees member; his commanding officer was an ancestor of my Luckett Hall roommate. Hey, there’s always a Roo connection.
After our lifetimes, you can bet there will be other examples. My prediction though? Like a dysfunctional family, we’ll muddle through and survive. We just have too much in common.
The United States is Spanish. There are more Spanish speakers in the U.S. than Spain; only Mexico has more. Texas itself has more Spanish speakers than Nicaragua. What’s the oldest city in the United States that is a state capitol? Boston? Nope. Santa Fe.
American culture is embraced and beloved in Mexico. Music, movies, and all things USA are a part of everyday life. The Mexican principle of “no intervention” only applies to American politics. This love of culture also includes sports. Mexicans are addicted to American football.
Two nations this linked are bound to do some things together, like, I dunno….. jointly host a sporting event. Which they will! Along with Canada, Mexico & the U.S. will be hosting the 2026 World Cup. Matches will take place at venues such as Cowboys Stadium in Dallas and Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
Which takes us back to Estadio Azul. It was built in 1946 for the game of American football. It saw the growth of this sport during a Golden Age (“Epoca Dorada”) of American football in Mexico. Here, Mexicans adopted an American import with passion. From the video in the comments:
“Aqui aprendimos amar a un deporte que llevamos en la mente y en el corazon.”
“Here we learned to love a sport [American football] that we carry in our minds and hearts.”
The stadium has hosted Mexican college football games, NFL games, contests between Mexican & American colleges, and matchups between American colleges themselves. In 1978, Austin College was one.
The NAIA selected Austin College and Gustavus Adolphus (MN) to play at Estadio Azul. The Gusties of Gustavus Adolphus were ranked #6 in the nation. AC was struggling through its 9th losing season in a row. But something was brewing in Sherman about that time. Coach Larry Kramer was putting all of the pieces together, and the Kangaroos showed up to play.
In a driving rainstorm, the Roos fought the Lions tooth and nail for four quarters, coming up just short by a 14-9 score. Price Clifford, Steve Clifford, Wilson Renfroe, Brent Hollensed, and the horrible weather limited Gustavus Adolphus to zero yards passing, kept it close until the end, and almost pulled off the upset. After the game, the team made their way back to the Mexico City airport. The weather had muddied their bags so much, customs pretty much let them through without hassle.
Funny thing after that game. A golden age of Roo football began. AC returned to Sherman and shut out the Lobos of Sul Ross. Over the next 5 years, Austin College won 80% of its games, two conference championships, and a national championship. Maybe the “epoca dorada” of Roo football actually began in Mexico City, at Estadio Azul with Larry Kramer on the sidelines.
Austin College football has been competing against Mexican college football teams in every decade since the Harry Truman & Miguel Aleman administrations. Roos have played in Mexico City, and Mexico has suited up in Sherman. The games have taken place in historic stadiums, including one where Bob Beamon and Jim Matson’s father Randy Matson shined. Remember when Diego Maradona scored the greatest goal in the history of soccer during the 1986 World Cup? That was Estadio Azteca; Roo football has played there. The contests have also weaved in and out of politics, from John Carlos and Tommie Smith on one side, to Gustavo Diaz Ordaz and a place called Tlatelolco on the other.
It’s the next Roo Tale! “A history of Mexico, through the lens of Austin College football.”
Hey, I got this one. I’ve lived in Mexico City, speak Spanish, and am familiar with Mexican politics. OK, maybe not as familiar as Maria L Ramirez. Or Enrique Arce. Alright, alright Juan Villalobos & Fernando Gonzalez Saiffe too. Maybe Roos and MX City residents Sven Wallsten and Chris Campbell can also chip in. But hey, I can hold my own. I’ve seen a lot of Roo football, and a good deal of Mexican college football. Heck, I’ve even watched Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith do their thing…….. at Estadio Azteca. This summer, it will be all Mexico. This one will be fun for me.
We’ll do a preview every Sunday throughout June and into July. In late July, after Mexico has shocked the world and won the 2018 World Cup, we’ll tell the story itself in a run up to Legends 2018. If you are a member of a Roo football team that played against a Mexico college, send me some color commentary. Heck, if you know a lot about Mexico, dive right in. By the time Legends 2018 rolls around, we’ll all be much more familiar with our “good neighbor” to the south.
This is Austin College, not Last Chance U. We don’t tell a story that focuses on tiny details like the passing efficiency of the third string QB. When we tell a story, we go long. We go back to the late 19th century and tell the story of an entire nation……………with a little help from Roo football. Should be a fun summer of writing for this Gringo quien tambien es mas Mexicano que el chile.
The 1978 Austin College Kangaroos who played at Estadio Azul:
Richie Bell, Julius Bell, Steve Atchison, William Bowie, Price Clifford, Steve Clifford, Chuck Broach, Gerald Brown, David Carneal, Doug Corey, Jim Curry, Steve Deville, Steve Dixon, Gordon Eiland, Scott Ericksen, Rory Dukes, Mike Gallahon, Paul Gallagher, Paul Gardner, Ron Hendershot, Larry Hickman, Mark Howeth, Kelly Hyde, Brent Hollensed, Mitch Jameson, David Johnson, Bob LaPlante, Mike Long, Chris Luper, Robbie McClendon, Randy Matthews, Bill McGee, Lewis Merritt, Mike Pappas, Trent Payne, Wilson Renfroe, Ty Quick, Wesley Rippy, Ronnie Roberson, Tim Shea, Mark Shepard, Bob Simeone, David Simmons, Paul Solomon, David Starnes, Ron Sizemore, Kevin Stone, Ramon Torres, Ricky Turner, Hugh Veale, Danny White, Bryan Williams, James Wood, Don Woods, Chris Wright
Created just after World War 2, the organization which would later become ONEFA (Organizacion Nacional Estudiantil de Futbol Americano) governed college football in Mexico well into the 21st century. Tensions between public universities and private colleges, however, split the organization in 2010. That year, the private schools bolted and founded their own league: CONADEIP (Comision Nacional Deportiva Estudiantil de Instituciones Privadas). For six years, Mexico crowned two champions every year, one from each league.
That changed in 2016. The two leagues agreed to have their respective winners meet in a “Champions Bowl” (Tazon de Campeones). At Estadio Gaspar Mass in Monterrey, Los Tigres Autenticos de La Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon (UANL) met Los Aztecas de La Universidad de las Americas-Puebla (UDLAP) in the first ever Champions Bowl.
Led by Head Coach Eric Fisher, a Kansas native who speaks excellent Spanish and has coaching ties to Sven Wallsten’s and Chris Campbell’s American School Foundation (ASF), Los Aztecas pulled away late in the 4th quarter, and held on for a 34-27 victory.
With the win over Nuevo Leon, UDLAP was the #1 team in the nation.
A year in Madrid learning Spanish left me hungry for more, so I began to explore opportunities to head south after graduation from Austin College in 1992. Fulbright and Peace Corps efforts did not pan out, but another opportunity arrived from an unexpected source. Texas A&M had an established relationship with La Universidad de las Americas-Puebla (UDLAP), and my Aggie parents wanted to spend a summer learning Spanish. My brother and I joined them. There, we spent months working on our Spanish, helping new Mexican friends with their English, and basically enjoying the good life of a 20-something between study and career. Puebla is famous for the site of the “Cinco de Mayo” Mexican victory over the invading French in 1862.
Summer turned to fall, and the family returned to the States. I stayed behind. I had landed a job with a business in Puebla. The pay was meager and the work was mundane. But that was fine. The point was to hang around in Mexico and keep the Spanish going. There, I lived in a small house operated by a family that room and boarded Mexicans from Mexico City to Veracruz to Chiapas. We worked on weekdays, and watched the Cowboys march towards a Super Bowl title on Sundays. Mexicans are huge Cowboys fans.
We also attended a lot of college football games at UDLAP on Saturdays. One of the opponents in 1992 was Los Tigres Autenticos de La Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon (UANL), the same school UDLAP would face in the 2016 Champions Bowl. We were excited to attend, and left for the UDLAP campus in good spirits. The Azteca cheerleaders kept shouting “Touchdown, queremos touchdown,” and UDLAP touchdowns kept coming. The Aztecas won.
With the win over Nuevo Leon, we all became bigger fans of UDLAP.
The summit of Austin College football was 1981, when the Kangaroos secured a national co-championship in dramatic fashion against Concordia (MN). No one at Louis Calder Stadium who witnessed the game-tying, crossbar-hitting kick with 72 seconds left would suggest otherwise.
It was, however, a “co”-championship. National title honors were shared with Concordia.
The Roos were ranked #2 in the nation at the start of the 1982 season, right behind #1 Concordia. AC began their campaign at Louis Calder stadium, against Los Tigres Autenticos de La Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon (UANL), the same school that would face UDLAP in 1992 and 2016. It was a tough, tough game.
The teams combined for 386 penalty yards. Clayton Oliphint broke his collarbone. Bill Magers had a fumble recovery. A Greg Garrison TD was the difference as the Roos took a 6-3 lead to the 4th quarter. A Jim Vice-to-Russ Roden touchdown pass put the game away.
Don Parnell: “They had the best nose/defensive tackle I ever played against. The guy was lightning quick. We barely beat those guys.”
Russell Roden: “I remember during pre-game reminding Clayton Oliphint how we had each played in every game of our AC careers up to that point, and then they promptly fractured his collarbone early in the game. Clay still blames me for putting a jinx on him. Didn’t members of Nuevo Leon end up joining us at a post-game party?”
Margaret Winfield McMahen: “There were so many penalties, the crowd started saying along with our great announcer, Willie Jacobs, “but there is a flag on the play.” Dyke remembers it being a very ‘dirty’ game. But all was good. Later that night, out in ‘the field’ where the post-game party was held, a charter bus drives up, their team unloaded, and all just partied together!”
That same day, the 1982 Roos got some news. Maybe it came as they were walking off the field. Maybe at dinner that evening. Or maybe while enjoying some cervezas at the pachanga with their new friends from Nuevo Leon.
Concordia had lost.
With the win over Nuevo Leon, Austin College was #1 in the nation. All by itself.
Later that same week, the Dallas Morning News did a feature on AC. Titled “At Austin College, they play football their way,” the article highlighted the school’s unique road to the top of the mountain, the emphasis on athletic-academic balance, and the “love of the game” attitude on the field:
“It’s not college football as they know it at Texas, Oklahoma, SMU or other major schools, and that’s fine with everyone here. ‘We’re really not trying,’ Athletic Director Bob Mason said, ‘to be like anyone else.’ So the Austin College Kangaroos find themselves ranked No. 1 in the NAIA Division II simply by doing things their way. The players are bright, personable, and realistic. So are the coaches. Everyone around AC is proud of the team’s success, but no one ever will accuse the school of buying its way to the top.”
“The scholarship system tends to own people. I’m playing with guys I know WANT to play, not because they have to play. We don’t need 40,000 people in the stands to motivate us. Just give us some moms and dads and a couple of grandmothers and we’ll do fine. Whether you win the Cotton Bowl or the NAIA, it all feels the same. We have 68 players this fall and no one is cut, which is good. But what’s even better is that everyone in our locker room is going to graduate.”
“I like the smallness of Austin College. A lot of players get lost in those big programs. Here you play because you want to play. There’s not as much pressure in the football program, but it’s a lot of work because you want to keep up in your classes.”
The article ends with some thoughts from a Senior defensive back from East Texas, talking about the week of the 1981 NAIA national championship game:
“It was final exam week. Everybody knew we had a big game, but we didn’t expect any favors. There were no pep rallies or parties. We would work out, then study until the wee hours of the morning. Looking back, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
El Tri is 2-0 in the World Cup, and most likely headed to the Round of 16. Let’s keep it up Mexico. More Sunday Mexico Roo Tale previews to come.
On August 21, 1994, I woke up early and flagged a taxi as the sun was rising over Mexico City. I headed to the airport to fly back home after a summer of working in the capital. I left behind a country that was voting in elections for the Presidency and Congress that very day.
The candidate of the Partido Revolucionario Institutional (PRI) would be declared the winner by the time I called it a day in Texas.
The Mexican revolution was a mess. From the election of Francisco Madero in 1911 until the end of the 1920s, the country was a non-stop parade of instability, political violence, and regionalism. American intervention in Veracruz and Nuevo Leon didn’t do much to help. At the time Pete Cawthon was leaving Austin College to coach at Texas Tech, the revolutionary leaders that remained in Mexico City got together to put an end to the chaos. They established a political party: the PRI.
Since 1929, the PRI has dominated Mexico continuously, either directly (up to 2000) or allied with a political party of a similar ideology (the PAN, since 2000). Today, the PRI occupies both the Presidency and Congress.
Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian author, called the PRI “La Dictadura Perfecta” (the perfect dictatorship). The PRI, and ONLY the PRI, would govern. And govern indefinitely. In exchange, for this unsolicited authoritarianism, the party would maybe shift priorities from time to time as the political winds demanded.
The party was also committed to avoiding the cults of personality that infected the revolution. Presidencies would not be allowed re-election after a 6-year term, and would grudgingly accept the blame for past failures (real and imagined) in order to facilitate the success of a new administration handpicked via the party’s “dedazo” (the big finger).
The PRI was not above using violence and repression to achieve its political aims. The media was strictly controlled. But the party was just as likely to use carrots as much as sticks when more effective. There were always massive amounts of pesos to be spent at election time, and lucrative deals often awaited a more Washington Generals-like opposition.
After a brief period of revolutionary fervor when Cecil Grigg and Tex Hill were coaching and cheering in Sherman in the 1930s, the PRI transformed into a more stable and authoritarian regime after World War 2. As Gene Babb and the Roos were playing in Olympic Stadium in 1955, the country was experiencing the “Mexican miracle”, a decades long period of 4% annual growth boosted in part by increased public expenditures in health, education, and infrastructure. Jerry Bishop and the Roos returned to play in the 1960s, a decade when growth reached 7% per year. AC played against Mexican teams for four years up to 1967.
But not in 1968. Football in Mexico was cancelled that year.
In spite of the increased economic prosperity, Mexicans revolted against the political autocracy of the PRI. The party responded as it often did, with both repression and economic incentives. By 1971, when William Keith Bo Brown and the Roos were playing in Estadio Azteca, the PRI’s political crisis of 1968 had been defused. Financed by high oil prices, future PRI regimes in the 1970s spent liberally to further maintain their grip on power. When Brent Hollensed and the Roos played at Estadio Azul in 1978, it seemed oil would insulate the party from political pressure forever.
But then came 1982.
Nuevo Leon played football against Russell Roden and the Roos in Sherman that same year. Back home in Mexico, the steep drop in oil prices and an inability to finance debt created a national balance of payments crisis. Western lending agencies demanded that the PRI adopt monetary austerity and rollback public goods in return for funds. The PRI autocracy, speaking on behalf of a voiceless Mexican populace, complied. The end of the economic growth of the Mexican miracle only served to increase political opposition.
That opposition showed up in 1988.
PRI candidate Carlos Salinas was expected to win the 1988 election easily, using the same tactics as candidates before. But early returns showed the opposition with a clear lead. That’s when the electoral computer system “fell” (se cayó el Sistema). The electoral machinery went dark due to a government declared power outage. When restored, the PRI candidate was declared the winner with just over 50% of the vote. Ballots were burned, and PRI officials later admitted there was no outage at all. It was all a lie.
The fiasco of 1988 was devastating to the party, but it recovered by way of an alliance with an historic party of similar ideology, the Partido Accion Nacional (PAN). By allying with the PAN, the PRI could usher in a period of democratic rule without dramatic change. With assistance from the PAN, the PRI retained power in 1994, the year I lived and worked in Mexico. PAN won the presidency and made gains in Congress during the next two election cycles, in both 2000 and 2006. When Monterrey Tech visited Ross Hasten and the Roos at Calder Stadium in 2009, a PAN president was in Mexico City, launching a disastrous war against the drug cartels transplanted from Columbia.
The PRI captured the Presidency and Congress in 2012. It will probably be remembered as their last hurrah.
The administration of Enrique Peña Nieto has been characterized by high rates of crime due to the drug war, lower economic growth, extreme unpopularity, and exhaustion with the powers that be that have ruled the country since the decade when the Roos competed on the football field against UT, Baylor, and TCU.
Today, there is an election in Mexico. If polls are to be believed, the Presidency and Congress will soon be run by a political entity with no ties to the PRI or the historic Mexican ruling class. It will be a true democratic opening and a dramatic transition of power, the first of its kind in the lives of every Mexican.
There’s no telling what lies ahead for the new administration. Maybe it will be a success, maybe a failure. May it will be moderate, maybe not. Maybe relations with Washington will be tolerable; I fear they will not be.
But that’s tomorrow. Today, we celebrate a modern Mexico, one with free elections where legitimate parties of the ideological spectrum are competing, with the autocratic PRI coming in a very distant and sad third.
Vargas Llosa may have been wrong. It wasn’t a dictadura perfecta after all. It’s been stumbling for most of our lives, and it ends today. Pete Cawthon and the Roos said hello to the PRI 90 years ago.
Today we can all say “adios.”
That summer of 1994 was spent working for an investment management company on Reforma Avenue. The World Cup took place in July, and Mexico had a great run. After every victory, we’d leave the office, walk by the US embassy, and join Mexicans celebrating at the Angel De La Gloria downtown. That 1994 run ended in the Round of 16.
Mexico is having another great World Cup run in 2018, and once again finds itself in the Round of 16. They play tomorrow, against Brazil. Mexico defeated Brazil in the 2012 Olympics to win the Gold Medal.
Let’s do this Mexico. Let’s replace the PRI with a World Cup title. Mexicanos, unidos, jamás serán vencidos.
Two more Sunday previews to come. The NFL in Mexico, and the US-Mexican War. The Mexico Roo Tale will kick off Sunday, July 22nd.
Will the National Football League ever expand to Mexico?
Some say yes, others no. There are good arguments on both sides. The most common answer is probably something like “maybe in the future, but not soon.”
The growth and popularity of American football in Mexico can be tracked back to the end of WW2. By the late 1960s, college football in Mexico had peaked the interest of NFL executives. In 1968, the league announced that the Oakland Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles would play a preseason game at Azteca Stadium. The year was a poor choice.
1968 was a year of political unrest and oppression in Mexico. Part of the governmental response to protest involved the cancellation of sporting events to avoid the large crowds that accompanied them. No college in the country was allowed to suit up that year. Tight security surrounded the Olympic Games that summer.
Austin College, which had played Mexican teams for four years in a row up to 1967, saw its annual game with Mexico City IPN cancelled in 1968. The Lions-Eagles game suffered the same fate.
As the political climate eased, football made a slow comeback. Austin College and Keith Johnston returned to Mexico City in 1969. Bo Brown and Billy Core were mixing it up in 1971 at Azteca Stadium, the site of the cancelled Detroit-Philly game. The Kangaroos were back again in 1978, playing at Estadio Azul. Amazingly, the 1978 AC game was just weeks after the first NFL game in Mexico in the same stadium.
Ron Jaworski and the Philadelphia Eagles met Archie Manning and the New Orleans Saints at Estadio Azul in an August 1978 preseason game. Mexico wasn’t quite ready. According to Jaworski, “they weren’t prepared. The locker rooms were too small and the goal posts were crooked.” Still, the NFL had finally dipped its toe in the Mexican waters. They wouldn’t be back for 16 years. When they returned, your humble author was there.
Mexicans are huge Dallas Cowboys (Vaqueros) fans. Part of the reason is explained by the arrival of the NFL via television in the late 1970s. This fact also explains why there is also a fairly significant number of Pittsburgh Steelers (Acereros) fans. But the main reason why everyone down south roots for America’s team?
Danny Villanueva kicked for the Cowboys from 1965 to 1967. His last game was the famous “Ice Bowl” in Green Bay. Efren Herrera kicked for the Cowboys from 1974 to 1977. His last game was a Super Bowl XII victory over Denver. Rafael Septien kicked for the Cowboys from 1978 to 1986. He retired with the most points in franchise history.
All were Mexican nationals.
I lived in Mexico in 1992, and watched the Dallas Cowboys march towards a Super Bowl title alongside Mexican friends and fans. I returned in 1994. The Cowboys were defending Super Bowl champions, the Houston Oilers (Petroleros) were a potential Super Bowl contender, and Mexico had NFL fever. So the league organized a preseason game in August 1994 at Azteca Stadium between the Cowboys and Oilers. My brother and I were living in Mexico City, and attended. Alongside 112,376 fans from Mexico.
The weather was drizzly and muddy. Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin played a few series before heading to the bench. When Daryl Johnston was introduced during the starting lineups, the entire stadium of Spanish speakers yelled “Mooooooooooose!” (13:20-14:00 in the video).
Don’t tell me that Mexico is not a fan of this game.
The attendance is still a record today; it remains the largest NFL game in history. Amazingly, out of all of the 112,376 fans, I was randomly seated next to an American business colleague of my friend John Talley. JT quarterbacked the Kangaroos in 1991.
The Oilers won a sloppy contest by a score of 6-0. As we headed home, I overheard two Mexican fans talking.
“Que partido, no?” “Si, pero perdieron Los Vaqueros!”
“What a great game, huh?” “Yeah, but the Cowboys lost!”
The NFL returned to Azteca Stadium off and on over the next 10 years, and scheduled its first regular season game there in 2005. In 2016, the league announced that a regular season game would be played at Azteca every year. The 2018 game will feature Los Angeles against Kansas City in November. The Rams & Chiefs will go at it on the same turf as Roos Bo Brown and Billy Core back in 1971.
So, will the National Football League ever expand to Mexico?
There are arguments in favor.
Fan interest in the sport is high, and has been for some time. Mexico is a middle income nation with a GDP larger than Florida and just behind Australia. The GDP of Mexico City, the likely host of expansion, is higher than either Houston or the DFW Metroplex. Also, the NFL is witnessing a local market decline due to political opposition from both the right and left, making international markets more attractive.
There are arguments against.
GDP per capita in Mexico (#65 globally) is decidedly lower than in the U.S (#11 globally). Also, the NFL has an interest in travel by visiting fans, something harder to do when international borders are involved. There are markets in the U.S. that are arguably more attractive; the San Antonio-Austin area where I live is one.
Still, it’s hard for me to believe that the trajectory down south will change. Mexican fans of the game have only grown since the largest game in NFL history back in 1994, and I’m sure more are on the way.
I’m just too biased. After all, I heard 112,376 Mexicans all yell “Mooooooooose!”
One more Sunday preview to come. The US-Mexican War. The Mexico Roo Tale will kick off Sunday, July 22nd.
James Polk wanted California. Real bad. But Mexico wouldn’t budge.
The U.S. had used a mixture of violence and deal making to push Westward expansion. Local populations got the violence, while European powers got the deals. The English reached an agreement in Canada (In the end, the Americans didn’t get 54/40 and didn’t fight either). The French sold the Louisiana Purchase. The Spanish found a market for Florida in Washington. Polk expected Mexico to sell as well. Didn’t Santa Anna realize that the alternative was worse?
Yup, that Santa Anna. He was the Mexican version of Robert Downey Jr. One comeback after another.
But the land from California to Texas was special for Mexico City. It had been a part of the Spanish empire for three centuries, and was populated by nationals. Selling the territory was not a political option.
Polk eventually realized that war was the only way to obtain. He understood that there was a border dispute between Mexico and the recently annexed state of Texas. Mexico recognized the Nueces river, while Texas recognized the Rio Bravo (known as the Rio Grande in Anglo communities). “Sounds like an opportunity,” thought Polk.
The United States was building an empire, yet detested imperialism. To overcome this contradiction, American wars of expansion needed pretexts to justify. In 1846, Polk sent General Zachary Taylor and company down south. They crossed the Nueces, camped on the Rio Grande, and awaited a Mexican response. When the skirmish eventually came, Polk declared that “American blood had been shed on American soil.” The battle for California was on.
Henderson Yoakum was a lawyer residing in Huntsville, TX at the outbreak of hostilities. He volunteered for service in a regiment under the command of Jack Hays within Taylor’s army. Into Northern Mexico went the Americans, with the goal of forcing a surrender. In spite of advances, Santa Anna refused to concede defeat. As Taylor’s invading army withered under difficult conditions in the Mexican desert, Polk decided on a different strategy. Yoakum, his tour complete, eventually headed back to Huntsville on leave.
To win the war, Polk believed a conquest of Mexico City itself was required. He called upon an ancestor of my 3rd floor Luckett Hall roommate to carry it out. General Winfield Scott, a great-grandfather of Roo Pat Abernathey, landed at Veracruz and marched west in the same manner as Spaniard Hernan Cortes 300 years earlier.
On his way to the capital back in 1519, Cortes had destroyed one native temple after another. The lone exception was in the Puebla suburb of Cholula. There, Cortes ordered that a Catholic church be constructed on top of a Cholutecan pyramid. The Cholula pyramid today is considered an important symbol of Mexico’s mestizo (mixed) heritage of European and indigenous culture.
After victory over Santa Anna at Cerro Gordo (near Veracruz) in 1847, Scott arrived in Puebla. There, he rested, awaiting orders for a final assault on Mexico City. The city of Puebla, my home in 1992, is the site of the Mexican victory over the invading French on Cinco de Mayo, 1862. Puebla lies just east of the volcano Popocatepetl (“Popo”), the most active in Mexico. Popo erupted just recently, in February of 2018.
The last stand for the Mexican army was at Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City. As the Americans began their final summit, six teenage boys tasked with the lost cause of defending the castle committed suicide rather than surrender. Today they are honored in Mexico as the “Ninos Heroes” (boy heroes) of Chapultepec.
In defeat, Mexico relinquished one-third of its territory and recognized the Rio Grande as the border between Mexico and the U.S. Perhaps out of guilt, the U.S. paid for the territory anyway. All of a sudden, Mexican nationals were American citizens. The United States as a Hispanic nation was born. Today, the United States has more Spanish speakers than Columbia or Spain.
Henderson Yoakum’s tour ended in late 1846, before the end of the war. He returned to Huntsville, and alongside his good friend and neighbor Sam Houston began to devote himself to a different project: the foundation of a Presbyterian College. Yoakum was instrumental in attracting the interest of founder Daniel Baker, and rounded up local support in Huntsville for the endeavor. He served on the original Board of Trustees with Houston from 1849 to 1856, and is credited as the author of the Austin College Charter. Written in 1849, the charter is the oldest in the state.
From “Austin College, A Sesquicentennial History”, by Dr. Light Cummins:
“At my request,” [Baker] later recalled, “Col. Henderson Yoakum drew up the charter of the College, making such alterations as I suggested.”
Dr. Cummins’s highly recommended book was published in 1999, the 150th anniversary of Austin College. The book concludes with a quote from Henderson Yoakum:
“Austin College was a singular creation because it represented to them an institutionalized future for the perpetuation of their civil and religious virtues. They established the college for the primary purpose of insuring the survival of those virtues, ideals they indeed believed should persist forever. It was therefore with some justification that Henderson Yoakum, Texas lawyer and founding trustee, hoped in 1850 that ‘with the smiles of a kind Providence, our children, and children’s children will have cause to rejoice over this noble institution.’“
The Mexico Roo Tale will kick off Sunday, July 22nd. See you then.
Sherman, TX sits just south of the Texas-Oklahoma border. As a result, most of us Texan Roos had to “drive north” to get from our hometowns to Austin College back in the day. Sherman native Kelly Carver just had to put in a few miles to get to campus. Sweet.
For Metroplex residents Kirk Hughes, Colin Dunnigan, and Patrick Fogarty, that drive was a mere 60 miles. Man, did we non-DFW folks roll our eyes at those DFW Roos and their “long” trips to Grayson county.
But still, boy how did those south of I-10 laugh at us when we complained.
Corpus Christi’s Wayne Whitmire had a 475 mile trip in front of him. That sounded pretty good to Coach Carlos Longoria, who had to put in 577 miles. Longoria grew up in Hidalgo, TX, just miles from one Texas border. His commute to AC was the entire length of the great state of Texas.
And still, for one Roo? Longoria’s commute was child’s play.
Every year, Roo Sven Wallsten (Class of ’95) would load up his car and drive to Sherman. Just like the rest of us. Only, unlike you and me, he was leaving Mexico City. Ain’t exactly a trip from Richardson now, is it?
That’s 1,190 miles folks. 1,190 miles. Napoleon’s trip from France to the outskirts of Moscow was just over 1,190 miles. As the crow flies, 1,190 miles is the distance from Northern Scotland to Southern Croatia. Croatia is where Kelly Carver is headed right now, as a matter of fact. Have a great trip Carver.
In the summer of 1994, I had an internship with an investments company in Mexico City. The Wallsten family was in Mexico City, and Sven was back home. They graciously invited me to a weekend in Valle de Bravo, a beautiful spot a couple of hours west of the City. I rode while Sven drove, telling me entertaining stories of commuting from Mexico City to Sherman. When Sven hit the Texas border on his way north, he said, he knew that he was halfway to Roo Country.
At Valle de Bravo, we hit the lake, rode horses in the mountains, and walked around town. It was one of my favorite weekends that summer, and I’m still grateful to the Wallstens. That weekend, I had a memorable conversation with Sven’s grandfather. He spoke English as if he were born and raised in Texas. Yet for him Mexico was home. He and his wife lived in Texas for a while after retirement, but they were soon back in Mexico….where life just felt comfortable. That type of cross-cultural familiarity is something I admire.
The Mexico Roo Tale kicks off tomorrow, Sunday July 22nd:
The last chapter focuses on the school’s unique international focus among small colleges, and how the athletic competition with Mexican colleges was a part of this trend. I can’t think of any better example of this than a Mexico City student driving to Sherman for fall classes.
Sven, hope you and the family are well. Thanks again for a fantastic weekend back in 1994. I’ll be sure to let you know the next time my family is in Mexico City. Ya sabes que este Canguro es mas Mexicano que el chile.