Teresa Van Hoy is Professor of History and current O’Connor Chair for the History of Hispanic Texas and the Southwest. She is a native of North Carolina, but moved to Texas to study the history of Latin America and the United States. Her early research focused generally on the dynamic among local communities, federal authorities and foreign investors in Mexico. Her subsequent work has focused generally on the problematic nexus of war and celebration.
Van Hoy’s social commitments focus on secondary education, public health, and art. In 2001, she founded and directed a local educational outreach program, “San Antonio Students Stand and Deliver” that prepares seventh graders for the SAT and college admission. Alumni from her program have matriculated at MIT, Dartmouth, Yale and elsewhere and received tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships. The first two cohorts have already graduated from college. In 2003, she joined “Latinas for a Cure” and promoted global awareness of breast health that included a talk in Beijing in 2007. She also bikes 20 miles a day (dangers notwithstanding—she was nearly killed when a motorist hit her while she was cycling in 2006.)
Van Hoy enjoys giving talks at area museums—most recently the former Museo Alameda, the San Antonio Museum of Art, and the McNay. History students partner with Dr. Van Hoy in designing films that share history with the public. Van Hoy’s own photo-essays have been screened locally, including most recently one on Cinco de Mayo and Latino celebrations entitled, “Calor y Color de San Antonio.” Future projects? Van Hoy is eager to make a full-length feature film on the history of latinos’ defense of Mexico in the 1800s, tentatively entitled, “Santa Anna’s Leg—is in Illinois?”
Dr. Van Hoy dedicates her teaching to those who have taught her the most: Roberto, Alejandro and Andrés.
Sons of California! Our country calls, and we must obey! This rebellion of the southern states must be crushed; they must come back into the union and pay obedience to the Stars and Stripes. United, we will, by the force of circumstances become the freest and mightiest republic on earth! Crowned monarchs must be driven away from the sacred continent of free America!
-José Ramón Pico, recruiting Californios in San José, California
Under the auspices of the O’Connor Chair for the History of Hispanic Texas and the Southwest, Teresa Van Hoy has spent the last two years investigating the history of latinos’ contributions to “Cinco de Mayo.” That is, what did latinos contribute to defense of the republican cause in Mexico against foreign expansionists and domestic imperialists? This third and final year of her tenure as O’Connor Chair is devoted to completing the manuscript titled, Cinco de Mayo and Civil War in the Borderlands, and to sharing the findings.
Her project began as an analysis of Mexican-Americans’ role in defending Mexico and the borderlands from the French Intervention in the 1860s. What did those U.S. residents of Mexican origin contribute to thwarting the ambitions of Emperors Napoleon III and Maximilian I in Mexico? The project was timed to coincide with the sesquicentennial of this struggle—from Cinco de Mayo 1862 through the Restoration of the Republic in 1867.
Twin historical realities became clear as Dr. Van Hoy shifted the story of Cinco de Mayo to focus on Mexican-Americans’ experience of it. The first is that the French Intervention was only the latest stage in an older and ongoing latino defense of the borderlands from foreign expansionists. Second, as evident in Pico’s call-to-arms quoted above, the Civil War and French Intervention were inextricably linked, particularly in the borderlands, where Confederates and Imperialists collaborated most heavily. Mexican-Americans not only fought both enemies during the French Intervention and Civil War, but they had been defending Mexico against these protagonists for 15 years, indeed longer. For example, Saligny, Napoleon’s diplomatic representative to Mexico in 1862, had formerly been France’s representative to the Texas Republic, where in 1841 he promoted the Franco-Texienne bill proposing to colonize three million acres of land still claimed by Mexico. Tejanos had not forgotten.
The book treats the French Intervention within this “longue-durée” of Mexican-Americans’ defense against French and U.S. expansionists in the borderlands. Colorful characters emerge as self-proclaimed “defensores de la frontera:” latino Union troops, Vidalistas, Cortinistas, Carvajal’s Fieles de Tamaulipas, Juntas Patrióticas, and the California Native Battalion of Californios for which Pico was raising Union troops at his own expense and well before the U.S. War Department sent approval.
To share her findings and related borderlands history with the public, Dr. Van Hoy has launched a public history initiative called, “Sankofa.” Among the outreach projects under the Sankofa “umbrella” are MobileMurals and a Ruta de Cinco de Mayo historical map application. For the MobileMural projects, student filmmakers at St. Mary’s University have produced short films on borderlands history and screened them outdoors in public venues—an initiative they describe as “moving history to the Streets and Squares.” For sample films, please visit Van Hoy’s supplementary website: sankofahistory.com. The “Ruta de Cinco de Mayo” historical mapping project is currently under development. The finished application will permit anyone interested in Cinco de Mayo and the French Intervention in Mexico to trace the global links of the protagonists of this history. The focus is on Texas and California, Mexico, and France, but the “Ruta de Cinco de Mayo” will eventually expand to include other key players in this history of the 1860s—notably Chile, Cuba, Spain, England, and Egypt. Special thanks to MIT’s MISTI office for early commitment of the technological support required for the software design of the “Ruta de Cinco de Mayo” map.
Dr. Van Hoy issues an open call for family papers or other documents relevant to the history of latinos in the borderlands. As part of an ongoing inquiry, she hopes to collect more sources both to test the conclusions of Cinco de Mayo and Civil War in the Borderlands and to extend its analysis.