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Book Review
By

Vincent Bosquez

[This review first appeared in

The San Antonio Express-News]

 


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

By Luis G. Gomez Texas A&M University Press (2006), $23
ISBN:
1585445142

 

            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 Villarreal, 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.

 

Vincent Bosquez is president of the Society of Latino and Hispanic Writers of San Antonio