Crossing the Rio Grande: An Immigrant's Life in the 1880s

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Overview

"Though rarely recorded, the lives of ordinary immigrants from Mexico are an important piece of the history of the American Southwest. Educated and hardworking, Luis G. Gomez came to Texas from Mexico as a young man in the mid-1880s. He made his way around much of South Texas, finding work on the railroad and in other businesses, observing the people and ways of the region and committing them to memory for later transcription." "From the moment he crossed the Rio Grande at Matamoros-Brownsville, Gomez sought his fortune in a series of contracting operations that created the infrastructure to help develop the Texas economy - clearing land, cutting wood, building roads, laying track, constructing bridges, and quarrying rock. Gomez describes Mexican customs in the United States, such as courtship and marriage, relations with Anglo employers, religious practices, and simple home gatherings that sustained those Mexican Texans who settled in urban areas like Houston, isolated from predominately Mexican South Texas." "Few of the 150,000 immigrants in the last half of the nineteenth century left written records of their experiences, but Gomez wrote his memoir and had it privately published in Spanish in 1935. Crossing the Rio Grande presents an English edition of that memoir, translated by the author's grandson, Guadalupe Valdez Jr., with assistance from Javier Villarreal, a professor of Spanish at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. An introduction by Thomas H. Kreneck explains the book's value to scholarship and describes what has been learned of the publication history of the original Spanish-language edition. Valdez's comments provide a picture of his grandfather's later life and his gentlemanly character." This volume provides a valuable account of a relatively undocumented period in Mexican Texans' history. Almost unknown to those outside his family, this narrative has now been "recovered," edited by Valdez and Kreneck, and made available to a wider, interested
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Editorial Reviews

Pleiades
. . . brings an important historical perspective to the current debate swirling over immigration, and in it we hear a voice not often detected: that of an ordinary man, never well-known outside his community, who accomplished something beyond the mean in his remarkable life.
Southwestern Historical Quarterly
These stories contain strains of melancholy when talk turns to family ties south of the border and to Mexican history and the land lost to the United States. They also speak of Mexican workers deceived by company con men and the unpredictable nature of their legal rights, along with brushes with violence that reveal the racism endemic to the time and place. . . . But the pages also sparkle with references to the enjoyment of food and drink, the warmth of companionship and the generosity of both Anglos and Hispanics, all of whom are trying to move themselves and the state forward. Crossing the Rio Grande provides a valuable and accessible resource to a reader familiar with the fundamentals of Texas's immigration history. . . . The exchange of population and culture between the United States and Mexico has gone on for more than 150 years. This book demonstrates that those involved in the process are people, not fragments of data for politicians to spin.
Journal of Southern History
. . . a vital contribution to the growing literature on Mexicans and Mexican Americans. . . . unique because few documents by Mexicans of this period have been found or published.
From the Publisher

“Luis G. Gómez says explicitly in the prologue to his memoirs that the purpose of recording the events of his life is to entertain; however, his memoirs accomplish much more than this as they fill a void in the history of the American Southwest of the late nineteenth century. Mexican immigrants formed an important part of the Southwest at that time, although few recorded accounts of the lives of immigrants from this era remain.”--Journal of the American Studies Association for Texas

“In 1884 a young man crossed from Matamoros to Brownsville fleeing conflict in Mexico and seeking his fortune in Texas. As a scenario this has no particularly unusual traits. In fact, it’s almost commonplace. What makes the tale engaging in this case is the voice telling it. A distinct personality resonates throughout this delightful book and pulls the read back in time to contemplate many of the same elements that make up the contemporary immigration debate.”--Southwestern Historical Quarterly

" . . . a vital contribution to the growing literature on Mexicans and Mexican Americans. . . . unique because few documents by Mexicans of this period have been found or published."--Journal of Southern History

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Product Details

Meet the Author


LUIS GÓMEZ migrated to South Texas in the mid-1880s. He wrote his memoir and privately published it in Spanish in 1935. GUADALUPE VALDEZ JR., who translated the Spanish original, is the grandson of Luis Gómez. THOMAS H. KRENECK is the associate director for special collections and archives at the Mary and Jeff Bell Library and the Joe B. Frantz Lecturer in Public History at Texas A&M University—Corpus Christi. He is also the author of Del Pueblo: A History of Houston’s Hispanic Community and Mexican American Odyssey: Felix Tijerina, Entrepreneur and Civic Leader, 1905—1965, published by Texas A&M University Press.
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2012

    Fantastic read!

    This is a wonderful book that gives an interesting look into the travels, and experiences, of an immigrant in the late 1800s to early 1900's.

    I was fortunate enough to meet Mr. Guadalupe Valdez (Translator), at his book signing, in Corpus Christi, Texas. Sadly, he passed away in October of 2011, at the age of 94.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2006

    A Powerful Life Story

    For many people, passing on one¿s life story can be as simple as telling family members and friends personal vignettes that have shaped who they are, and hoping that those stories get passed on to future generations without being altered, embellished or completely forgotten. But when those stories are put on paper, they can preserve a treasure trove of information that can make for fascinating reading decades later. Such is the case with ¿Crossing the Rio Grande: An Immigrant¿s Life in the 1880¿s¿ by Luis G. Gomez. Originally published in Spanish in 1935 under the title ¿Mis Memorias¿ by a small print shop in Rio Grande City, Texas, this translated edition published by Texas A&M University Press is a labor of love and devotion by a grandson determined to safeguard not only a piece of family history, but Texas history as well. Guadalupe Valdez Jr., the author¿s grandson, first learned of his grandfather¿s book in 1934. Gomez told his then 17-year-old grandson that he was writing two volumes of ¿notable incidents¿ of his youth for a ¿public who loves to read.¿ He also hoped that the book would ¿be of great help to the young.¿ Valdez finally saw a copy of the book for the first time in 1947, 10 years after his grandfather had passed away. The grandson never put the book out of his memory, and as he himself grew older he began giving formal presentations on it to genealogical organizations. It was at one of these conferences that he met someone who put into motion the opportunity to translate and publish the book for a new generation of readers. ¿Crossing the Rio Grande¿ is an English edition of Gomez¿s memoir translated by his grandson with assistance from Javier Villarrreal, a professor of Spanish at Texas A&M University¿Corpus Christi. An introduction by Thomas H. Kreneck explains the book¿s value to academia and describes what has been learned of the publication history of the original Spanish-language book. Gomez came to Texas from Mexico as a young man in the mid-1880s. He made his way around much of South Texas, finding work on the railroad and other businesses, observing the people and the way of the region. From the moment he crossed the Rio Grande at Matamoros¿Brownsville, he sought his fortune in a series of contracting operations that created the infrastructure to help develop the Texas economy. Through setbacks and perseverance, Gomez has crafted a heartfelt memoir that is beautiful in its simplicity and historically valuable in its glimpse into the rugged frontier of the Lone Star state. No exact record exists as to how many copies of the original book were printed, but what is known is that five copies remain in existence today. Interestingly, a second volume is alluded to, but has never been located. This current edition is a testament to the bond between a grandfather and a grandson that has stood the test of time, language and culture. Regardless of your position on today¿s immigration reform debate, it will give you insight into one man¿s struggles to achieve a better life in a country not legally his own. ¿Crossing the Rio Grande¿ is a small volume, but don¿t be fooled by its size¿it packs a powerful punch. It¿s sure to be on the ¿Top Ten¿ list of any Texas border community considering a ¿One Book, One City¿ reading program.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2006

    Great Book!

    I loved this book! It was very interesting to read about his memories. It felt as if I was reading about my great-great grandfather's life during that time period.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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