Heritage, 2011, Volume 1 Page: 29
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Jos6 Antonio Navarro:
In Search of the American Dream
in Nineteenth-Century Texas
By David McDonald
Reviewed by Dr. Jesas F de la Teja
Foreword by Arnoldo De Le6n. (Denton: Texas State Historical Association,
2010. Pp. 360. Illustrations, appendices, notes, index. ISBN
Jose Antonio Navarro was the single most influential
Tejano of the 19th century. As a legislator during the
Mexican, Republic, and Early Statehood periods of Texas his-
tory, he played a role in fostering Anglo American immigra-
tion, defending the rights of all Texans, and defining and
protecting the citizenship of Tejanos (Texans of Mexican
heritage). At the same time, Navarro was a family man and
businessman. His success in all three realms makes the sub-
title of David McDonald's biography of the Tejano leader, In
Search of the American Dream in Nineteenth-Century Texas,
McDonald is in many respects the right man to produce the
first comprehensive account of Navarro's life. As the manager
and historian at Casa Navarro State Historic Site in San
Antonio for 23 years, he not only collected the scattered bits
and pieces of evidence documenting Navarro's life, but he also
gained an intimate perspective on the Tejano leader's story.
Not surprisingly, the portrait of Navarro that emerges from
McDonald's examination of the available evidence is a sympa-
thetic one. While he does not gloss over Navarro's active par-
ticipation in the institution of slavery, McDonald makes clear
that the slavery practiced by the Tejano leader was in keeping
with the more humane and less racially charged version of the
institution that had developed in parts of the Hispanic world.
On this issue, on Navarro's behavior during and following the
Santa Fe Expedition-including his defense during his trial for
treason under an obviously vindictive Santa Anna-and on his
role in land speculation, McDonald has tried to clarify and
revise common perceptions.
Even McDonald's exhaustive research and painstaking work
In Search of th, Ame,rican Drcam
in Nineteenth- Centur 'exas
Foreword by Amoldo De eon
cannot overcome some of the deficiencies common in the life
stories of 18th- and 19th-century Tejanos. The absence of
complete collections of personal papers makes writing compre-
hensive biographies difficult to almost impossible. Most of the
available documentation on Navarro, for instance, comes from
public records. This means that we know a lot more about him
as a political figure than we do about him as a rancher-busi-
nessman or, especially, as a family man. Little private corre-
spondence has survived the vagaries of time, making it difficult
to say very much about his personal relationships with family
and friends. Nevertheless, McDonald has managed to tease out
what the surviving record has to offer and tell the story of a
man devoted to his family and homeland.
Jose Antonio Navarro did achieve the American dream. He
died a wealthy and respected man whose labors on behalf of
his native land were recognized by friends and strangers alike.
That his dream could not be shared by the vast majority of
Tejanos, whose rights he fervently worked to advance, is a
tragedy that still hangs over the Lone Star State. This biogra-
phy makes a strong case for revisiting and reassessing our
troubled past and redefining what it means to be American
Dr. Jess F de la Teja is professor of history at Texas State
Editor's Note: The dual treatment of 19th century and nine-
teenth-century is intentional because the author of the book uses
a style that differs from the one used in Texas HERITAGE
Volume 1 2011 I TEXASHERITAGE 29
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, 2011, Volume 1, periodical, 2011; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth254220/m1/29/: accessed January 16, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.