Between 1910 and 1920, ethnic Mexicans living along the Texas-Mexico border were targets of state-sanctioned violence and lynchings carried out by the Texas Rangers. Historians estimate that thousands of Mexican nationals and Mexican-Americans may have been killed during this period, which is commonly known as “La Matanza.”
This dark chapter of local history serves as the setting to Christopher Carmona’s recently published work of historical fiction, “El Rinche.”
At a book release event held at the McAllen Public Library on Sept. 6, Carmona told the audience he first heard about the brutality of the Texas Rangers from his grandfather when he was growing up.
“He told me my great-grandfather had to flee to Mexico for a few years to escape the violence,” Carmona recalled of his childhood, though at the time he didn’t know how truthful the stories might be. “I always wondered— did this happen how he said it happened?”
Years later, Carmona learned his grandfather’s stories were indeed true, and that many who lived in the region at the time had quite similar stories to share. This motivated Carmona to learn more about this period in history and to find some way to retell this story.
The ultimate push to write “El Rinche” came when Carmona attended a Latinx writing conference a few years ago and spent time talking with colleagues about his grandfather’s stories and the Texas Rangers’ violent history.
“I was talking to another professor, and we were sharing stories we’d heard about the Texas Rangers,” he told the audience. “One of her graduate students was there, she was from California, and she couldn’t believe anything we were saying. She said all she’d ever known about the Texas Rangers came the shows ‘Walker Texas Ranger’ and the ‘Lone Ranger’ series.”
It was then Carmona decided he had to flip the script and challenge the narrative about the Texas Rangers made popular through iconic media.
“I wanted to respond to the Lone Ranger (2013) film,” Carmona explained, “I wanted to flip this trope.”
His new novel, “El Rinche,” does just that.
“El Rinche” tells the story of a white-passing Mexican with green eyes named Chonnie, who fakes his death and takes on the persona of a “ghost ranger” in order to avenge the violence committed against his family and community.
Along the way, Chonnie runs into a wide cast of characters, including actual historical figures like Bass Reeves, a formerly enslaved man and infamous lawman, who acts as a mentor to Carmona’s protagonist.
In the author’s own words, this book is “fantastical, but it’s based in history,” and it’s clear Carmona invested a great deal of time and effort researching for this novel.
At the book release event, Carmona spoke at length about Reeves, sharing many details about his past, his role in Texas history, and his eventual fade from frontier fame into historical obscurity. He also spoke about the diverse characters in his book.
“You may be wondering why the character on the book cover is holding ninja swords,” Carmona egged on the audience with a playful tone before sharing how he learned about Japanese immigrants in South Texas during this period through his research.
It seemed natural then, to Carmona, for his Mexican protagonist to cross paths with Japanese immigrants and for this renegade revolutionary in the Texas-Mexico borderlands to adopt a traditionally Japanese weapon.
Obviously, this is not your typical borderlands story, but it was important to Carmona that it remain an authentic one.
“The hardest part was figuring out how to tell this story,” Carmona admitted, going on to describe how Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” served as inspiration and quoting the latter in saying, “reality is relative.”
Once he accepted that premise, Carmona went to work crafting “El Rinche.”
And perhaps that is what is most intriguing about Carmona’s young adult novel— that it sits somewhere between work of fiction and historical account. That it preserves a difficult and ugly chapter in history, but that it does so on its own terms. That, like corridos sang across the Texas-Mexico borderlands for generations, it offers a sometimes fantastical, yet authentic glimpse of borderlands history from the perspective of those whose stories are often untold or systematically buried.
“El Rinche” is published by Jade Publishing and is available now for purchase on Amazon.
To learn more about “La Matanza,” visit refusingtoforget.org, an educational non-profit woking to bring public awareness to this often forgotten period in history.