This was the grandfather and family of Conchita Orona Franco, one of the founders of the Dallas Mexican American Historic League (DMHAL).
“When my family migrated to Dallas, they all worked long hours so I could have the life I’ve had,” Conchita said.
When the busy volunteer co-founded the League, she said it was an important part of Dallas’ rich history that she wanted to share with her children.
“I want my children to know what the neighborhoods looked like; what employment was available to immigrants; how hard they worked so I could have a better life and education,” she said.
One hundred years after her grandfather crossed the Eagle Pass Bridge, the League, representing the city’s 17 largest barrios, was formed. Their purpose in 2008 was to capture and share Mexican Americans’ rich history in Dallas. Today the non-profit’s mission is “to research, collect, document and preserve the historical and cultural experiences and contributions of Mexican Americans in Dallas, beginning from the early 1900s, and to educate the general public of these contributions.”
In doing so, the League has grown to almost 90 members with a 19-member board of directors. In February of this year, DMAHL erected an exhibit at the Old Red Museum that will remain on display through May 27. “We Came, We Built, We Prospered: 100 Years of Mexican American History in Dallas” showcases significant events, places and people who have formed a century of the community’s tapestry.
The exhibit is accompanied through a lecture series, and genealogical journey map of three Mexican American families from Spain in the 1500s, to Mexico and then to Dallas.
The current treasurer and finance committee member of DMAHL, Conchita explained that DMAHL has conducted countless interviews, with the assistance of SMU Mexican American students, to gather historical facts. Many were recorded in conjunction with several organizations’ video projects, which utilized elementary and middle school student interviewers and videographers.
When the West Dallas Chamber of Commerce (WDCC) produced “Bridge-O-Rama,” the opening celebration of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, DMAHL participated in cooperation with WDCC to create an exhibit in the La Bajada and Los Altos de Juarez barrios at the west base of the bridge. The exhibit, “El Cemento,” highlighted four West Dallas of the 17 barrios the League has identified in Dallas. The name represents the cement industry in that part of town, where many immigrants found their first jobs.
Additional activities DHMAL offers are historical bus tours, speakers, a website and a Facebook page. Dedicated volunteers conduct community outreach to gain historical data, photographs, artifacts and to mobilize additional participation from Dallas’ Mexican American barrios.
“One DMAHL member has increased the Los Altos barrio exhibit from five photographs in 2008 to more than 1,000 since 2009,” Conchita said. “She is also assisting other barrios with increasing their collections.”
The petite grandmother has volunteered in the community for many years. She currently sits on the boards of the Metropolitan YMCA, Hope Cottage, Campfire Boys and Girls and Friends of the Dallas Arts District. She is a founding member of the Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas.
DMAHL exhibited at the National Association of Chicana/Chicano College Students’ Tejas Regional Conference. It was held at South Texas College in McAllen and was entitled, “Las Primeras: Mexican American Female Leaders in Dallas, Texas, 1900s to 1930s.”
One Chicana making more recent history in Dallas is Anita Martinez, who was the first Mexican American to serve on the Dallas City Council in 1969. Current Mayor Pro Tem, Pauline Medrano, was first elected to the City Council in 2005. Delia D. Jasso was elected to represent District 1 in Oak Cliff in 2009.
Another of those women contributing to Dallas’ Mexican American culture is Sra. Maria Moreno, who opened a Methodist mission on Floyd Street in East Dallas after immigrating here in the 1920s. The house is now part of the historic Wilson Block. DISD named an elementary school in her honor.
Conchita expressed gratitude: “Maria Moreno was a trailblazer who taught English here after teaching in Mexico. She always encouraged young people to stay in school. She was responsible for furthering the education of countless kids, including myself and my kindergarten classmates.”
She was the first in her family to graduate from high school. She and her husband of 56 years, Richard Franco, live in White Rock. You may recall reading about Richard and the 50-year-old Joker band in an earlier issue of White Rock Lake Weekly. The couple has four children, Richard Jr., Michelle, Susan and Cynthia, each of whom attended Woodrow Wilson or Booker T. Washington. They have four grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.
DMAHL’s exhibit is at the Old Red Museum (former courthouse) at 100 South Houston Street, Dallas 75202, through May 27. For information visit dmahl.org. To join, contact Conchita Franco at email@example.com.