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Casa Navarro State Historic Site

Remembering a Tejano Titan

Three white limestone-and-adobe structures tucked amid parking lots and modern office buildings command little attention in bustling San Antonio, a city known for the Alamo, River Walk, Spanish missions and popular theme parks. Nearby, a life-sized bronze statue of Casa Navarro State Historic Site's namesake keeps watch on the 19th century landmark, leaning on a cane, with the left hand outstretched palm-up, gesturing toward the former residence of one of Texas' more remarkable, but unsung, heroes. What scant recognition Navarro has achieved in the passage of 130 years stems from his being one of two native Tejanos (Texans of Mexican descent) who signed the Texas Declaration of Independence.

Navarro lived from 1795 to 1871, a period that saw a number of governments come and go in what would become Texas. During that time, Navarro served in the state legislature under Mexico, the Republic of Texas and the U.S., and held local government positions. He was appointed by fellow Tejanos to serve on committees that wrote the first two Texas Constitutions, in 1836 and 1845.

But Navarro gained his greatest accolade while working on the 1845 Constitution. The usually mild-mannered statesman took issue with a proposed amendment that would require citizens to be white to vote. A decade later, Navarro's legend grew when he became the first Mexican-American to write about the history of Texas from a Mexican perspective. Enraged by local newspaper articles attacking his people, Navarro wrote eloquently about the sacrifices of Tejanos who fought to win Mexico's independence from Spain.

Navarro was also a prominent civic leader of San Antonio's Laredito - the area west of San Pedro Creek on the road to Laredo, heavily populated by Mexicans that in the mid-1800s played a major role in preserving and reinforcing Tejano heritage. It was in Navarro's times that the roots of Mexican culture in San Antonio - Spanish language, ethnic foods, music, theater and religious festivals - took hold and grew.

To show Casa Navarro's key role in furthering the Mexican culture, the site's staff holds folkways demonstrations for school groups and others beneath a canopy of live oaks in the courtyard of the Navarro home site. Visitors learn how long-ago Texans used a metate to grind corn for the masa used to make tamales and tortillas, and how to make adobe bricks using dirt and straw.

Visitors receive an orientation about Navarro and his role in Texas history, and are given guided tours of two of three original structures built for Navarro in the 1840s and 1850s. Tour fees are: $2 for adults, 12 and under are free.

Be sure to pass through the two-room, 1856 Navarro home to see the photos of the patriarch, his wife Margarita and their seven children, including Angel, who went on to attend Harvard law school. Here, too, is a map of Navarro's extensive land holdings totaling 50,000 acres of ranch land acquired from profits from his thriving mercantile business.

- Rob McCorkle

For more information about Casa Navarro, call (210) 226-4801, or visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/ parks/casa_navarro/.

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