Historical marker to celebrate the history of the Pajalate language



Historical markers, like history books, do not recognize the whole of history.

So many important things are left out. Too much.

Bexar County will end it when a new Texas historical marker is erected at Padre Park near Mission San José.

It could be installed in 2023, sooner if work progresses quickly, although a location has not been decided. The exact wording has not yet been approved.

The marker will recognize a Native American language spoken in this area thousands of years before the arrival of the Spaniards. Pajalate, pronounced pa-ha-latwas the common language of the Coahuiltec peoples.

The Old River Heritage Group, a group of close neighbors to the mission, filed for a nomination with the Texas Historical Commission last November.

At its last meeting in February, the commission approved the marker along with 14 others statewide in its Undertold Markers program. He looks for historical gaps and underrepresented people, places and stories.

Documents submitted to the THC indicate that Pajalate is considered the “sole surviving language of what were once dozens, if not hundreds, of languages ​​and dialects spoken by the native Coahuiltecan and other peoples of the region that today includes today San Antonio and Bexar County”.

Groups of Coahuiltecans lived in a large area encompassing northeastern Mexico and southern Texas.

Their descendants, perhaps over 100,000, remain with us. Some know their ancestral heritage and others don’t, said Mickey Killian, founder and elder of the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation, who serves on the Bexar County Historical Commission and advised the Old River Heritage Group.

Pajalate was not a written language but was considered the lingua francaor common language, used by Coahuiltec groups.

It’s being studied in San Antonio. The Tap Pilam Language Preservation Project has been teaching Pajalate for years, especially to children, and using it in ceremonial songs and prayers. Tap Pilam translates to “people of the land” in Pajalate.

Its linguistic director Miguel Acosta studied at the University of Arizona under linguist Rudolph Troike, a Brownsville native considered a leading Pajalate expert, said Ramón Vásquez, the defense agency’s executive director. from the rights of American Indians from Tap Pilam in Texas to the Spanish colonial missions.

“It’s a fascinating language,” Vásquez said, noting that it’s considered an “isolated language,” thus unrelated to any other known language.

The request for THC also mentioned this. “This means that Pajalate is an ancient language, probably developed and spoken for thousands of years before the arrival of the Spaniards.”

That was the lingua franca also means that the Coahuiltecans were at least bilingual, engaging in multiple dialects, especially in trade and commerce, Vásquez said.

Recognizing a language visually can be difficult. Historical markers, by nature, point to architectural structures, or a specific site or event.

Virginia Rutledge, a member of the Old River Heritage Group, said, “Our argument included the fact that we don’t have or need a particular place, because the Coahuiltecans lived everything from this place.

The Spaniards used it for about 50 years to evangelize, printing bilingual materials on the Catholic sacraments in Spanish and Pajalate in Mexico City in 1760, she said. But soon after, “historical records show that the church administration ordered the suppression of native languages”.

In 1732, another handwritten document by Fray Gabriel de Vergara contained a Spanish-pajalate glossary.

When the historic marker project was presented to the Bexar County Historical Commission last fall, it received unanimous approval.

In a prepared statement, Speaker Tim Draves celebrated the news, saying Bexar County will have the state’s only marker on a tongue.

He said, “No community in Texas has a more compelling cultural heritage than Bexar County.”


But a city that uses cultural heritage and diversity to market itself to tourists hasn’t done nearly enough.

It has yet to properly acknowledge that it is on Indigenous land.

The city’s 10-day Fiesta showed us that in more than 100 years, San Antonio has failed to unravel and extricate itself from an anti-Mexican past.

This historical marker is a step closer to harder and nobler goals.

Big steps are essential, but so are small ones, as is supporting the ongoing work of Tap Pilam, which is funded in part by its annual Cactus Blossom Mission Heritage dinner on May 21.

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