Settling In Denton County
Before the 1900’s, very few Hispanic families called Denton County home. Those who did were often empresarios, receiving land in exchange for inviting new settlers to the area. Most families began settling in the county between 1910 and 1919, though some did arrive as early as 1898. The towns they primarily lived in included Denton, Roanoke, Justin, Sanger, Slidell, and Bolivar.
The new Hispanic communities in North Texas became tight knit and formed strong bonds. Together, they helped each other’s families through economic and social hardships. They supported their neighbors, and their neighbors supported them.
They found work in many different facets. Some were fortunate enough to open and operate their own restaurants. Others were often laborers, wood cutters, ranch workers, or worked on the railroad system. However, most of the work generally depended on the towns they lived in. In 1920, the census showed that Denton’s families worked in the food industry; those in Roanoke and Justin were railroad workers; the Decatur area was marked by brickworking; and Sanger and Bolivar had many farm laborers.
Early Hispanic Families of Denton County
The Menchaca Family (Denton)
Juan Menchaca and his family moved to Denton in 1920. He owned a cafe on the south side of the Square where he sold tamales, both at his business location and in a portable cart.
In 1932, Juan and his wife Candida returned to Mexico. When Juan passed away in the 1940’s, Candida returned to Denton where she lived for the rest of her life. However, when she did return, she had to confirm her citizenship and vertify that she had been born in Cameron, Texas.
The Ramirez Family ( Tioga, Pilot Point, and Denton)
The Ramirez family moved to Denton in the late 1950’s. At this time there was a large influx of Hispanic families moving to Denton County. Clemente Ramirez and his family arrived in 1957 where he retired after working on the railroad for 35 years.
Clemente had formerly been a rancher in Hunt County and later moved to Grayson County to work on the Texas & Pacific Railway. Clemente was married to Pearl Garza and the couple had six children: Juan, Joba, Tonnie, Amelia, Rosa, and Victoria. Pearl passed before their move to Denton.
The Villanueva-Veanueva Family (Denton)
Antonio Villaneuva moved to Denton from Mexico in the 1920’s. A widower, he came only with his young daughter, Ramona. Antonio was a business owner and vendor who also worked with Juan Menchaca at his restaurant.
He eventually remarried a young widow from Mexico, Marguerita, and the couple had eight children together. Three of their sons and one daughter served in the US military during WWII. Ben Veunueva went overseas in 1944 and served in Hawaii, Sam Veanueva served in France in 1943, Braely Villanueva served in Germany in 1942 with the 5th army and was awarded the Infantryman’s Badge, and Margarent Villanueva trained at Camp Lee in Virgina and served in various locations.
Coming Together: Hispanic Organizations
A strong Hispanic community had formed in Denton County over time. They came together to form groups and organizations that brought together Hispanics from various backgrounds. Together, they built a support system for one another and spread local awareness on Mexican-American culture and heritage.
The Mexican-American Student Association formed in 1974 at North Texas State University. They were a student activist group that sought to increase Mexican-American culture throughout their campus and formed a community for minority students. Additionally, they made an impact both locally and nationally. MASA benefited Denton by organizing Christmas events for neighborhood children. They also contributed to a national message by protesting in Washington D.C in 1977 after President Jimmy Carter failed to name any Latinos to this cabinet.
Today MASA is known as ALAS, Association of Latin American Students.
This organization also came about in the 1970s. It was an organization that provided an accepting environment while serving the Denton County community. They also awarded scholarships and grants to Hispanic high school students who planned on attending college. In 1981, their name changed to Denton League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and still actively participate in benefiting the local community.
Denton Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
The Tri-County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was formed to bridge Hispanic and non-hispanic businesses in the Denton community. Through workshops and networking events, they promote the advancement and development of Hispanic businesses. By holding public and member events, they empower members of the Hispanic community to participate in local government and to have a voice in their community. The organization was founded in the tri-county area of Denton, Collin, and Dallas Counties, and have successfully expanded to help more regions of Texas, Europe, and Latin America.
Over the years, Denton County developed a thriving Hispanic community. From culture to cuisine, Hispanic influence is present not only in our area, but all of Texas. Many who came here started with humble beginnings, but over time, those who were once farm workers and laborers were able to see younger generations graduate college, change their community, and integrate Mexican-American culture into everyday life.