Carlos Castaneda

Carlos Castaneda

(1896-1958)

Carlos Castaneda was a noted historian who specialized in the history of Mexico and the southwestern United States. His work empha¬ sized the common history of Mexicans and Americans in the state of Texas.

The seventh of eight children, Castaneda was born in Ciudad Camargo, located on the Rio Grande in the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas. When he was twelve years old, his family fled to Brownsville, Texas, to escape the Mexican Revolution. Two years later, both par¬ ents died within months of each other.

In spite of his hardships, Castaneda excelled early in school. He enrolled in summer school to improve his English skills, and he graduated as the valedictorian of Brownsville High School in 1916, the only Mexican American in his class.

Castaneda earned an academic scholarship to the University of Texas at Austin, where he enrolled as an engineering student. He later switched his major to history. After two inter-ruptions, one to serve as a machine gun instructor in World War I and another caused by lack of money, he graduated, Phi Beta Kappa, in 1921.

After college, Castaneda worked as a high school teacher in San Antonio and studied for his masters degree in history. He earned the degree in 1923 and took a job as an associate professor of modern languages at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, where he taught Spanish for four years.

In 1927, he returned to the University of Texas at Austin to head the Latin American Collection of the university library.In 1928, Castaneda published The Mexican Side ofthe Texas Revolution, which documented the events of 1836 based on translations of Mexican eyewitness accounts.

Four years later, in 1932, he completed his doctoral dis¬ sertation, a critical translation of Fray Juan Agustin Morfi’s History of Texas: 1673-1779.The dissertation was so well received that it was published three years later.

The recognition Castaneda gained from his dissertation helped him earn a commission from the Texas Historical Commission of the Knights of Columbus, which asked him to write a history of the Catholic Church in Texas for the 1936 state centennial. He expanded on the theme, which, over the course of fourteen years, became the seven-volume work Our Catholic Heritage in Texas, 1519-1936.

In 1939, Castaneda joined the University of Texas history department as a part-time facul¬ ty member. He became a full professor in 1946. In the 1940s, he was also appointed spe¬ cial assistant to the federal government’s Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC).

The FEPC monitored companies’ hiring prac¬ tices to make sure they did not discriminate against nonwhites. Castaneda’s work was instrumental in improving racial equality in the Texas oil industry.