Friday, October 18, 2013


Robstown, TX –  As many area residents prepare to celebrate COTTONFEST this weekend, a little history of the COTTON PICKER (el piscador) is in order.  The small City of Robstown has evolved over the years. The first settlers were mostly those working on the railroad.  The town was founded officially in the early 1900s. It was named after Robert Driscoll – a wealthy landowner in the region.  Land speculators later came to the area to buy parcels of land as two railroads intersected: the Texas-Mexican with the Missouri Pacific.  It was not much of a developed site early on: small pockets of settlements were scattered here and there.  The relationships between Anglos (i.e., a general umbrella of ethnicities: German, Czech, Bohemian, English, Irish and a few others) and Mexican Americans were distant.
The majority of Mexican Americans – then -- lived mostly in the unincorporated areas of the city such as Casa Blanca, San Pedro and Blue Bonnet.  But then again most of the qualified Mexicans Americans served as cheap agricultural labor for those in privileged positions and growers. These were the societal arrangements; these and others things were the social ethnic segmentation.
Conversely during the 1920s and 1930s, the cotton industry grew immensely.  Cotton picking (piscando) – this was the main occupational demand, a demand that brought many to the area especially Mexican Americans and other minorities and even undocumented ones.  One Texas Almanac records that the city had more cotton gins than any other city in the state and probably the nation during these early years.   
The agricultural industry grew into an all-time high.  The ritual of Cotton picking and its entailing industry brought the best of the cultures of the North and the best of the South together.  Sure there were cultural clashes and social hazing and all the other fancy terms sociology books record; but there was also interchange of ideas and culture and even some degree of alloying.  Eventually this assortment and merger created a common identity with the COTTON INDUSTRY.   A whole rung of titles emerged to identify each workers place in the hierarchy --  from the common piscador (cotton picker) to the jefes (administrator types).  They all felt reliant on each other – like a huge organism that depends on all its parts to function: its liver, its lungs, its heart to stay alive.  
This organism of a structure gave rise to the identity of the city  --  Robstown, was a city no longer just named after a wealthy rancher, but it contained the collective soul of a people tied to the land for survival.  It is no secret that as the years rolled by and schools were formalized – the core athletic team would be known as the “Cotton Pickers”  (los piscadores).  A historical paradox?  Those at the bottom of the social spectrum, of the occupation/job structure were glorified. They kept the motor of the economy running. 
Cotton Pickers (piscadores) – this was a label one carried with pride; it was not stained even with the callousness that social pretension can bring to such a matter.  Cotton Pickers represented hard, diligent working citizens – defined by the bona fide collective spirit and reinforced by the obvious admiration of the majority. 
To this day, one can travel anywhere in the nation and more likely find a family who had a relative that came to work here.  Robstown was booming during this phase in history.   But as all economic movements they subside and sometimes die; they become “defunct” as one poet put it.  But the collective spirit of Robstown has not become “defunct” despite economic transformations and the social-political restructuring of the times. The Industrial Revolution has come and retrenched and the word “Cotton Picker” today still carries a thousand of jabs of pride as it once did during its early history. It seems to be chiseled into the identity of us all who lived here. 

[Note: Please make plans to attend COTTONFEST this weekend at the FAIRGROUNDS (see ADVERTISMENT OF PAGE 3 & 4.  We really should never feel ashamed of being Cotton Pickers;  Cotton Pickers we were.   Cotton Pickers we are; and as Cotton Pickers we shall die.] 

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