History

The Connection Between Pancho Villa & San Antonio’s Chinese Residents

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Do you know the connection between Pancho Villa and the Chinese community of San Antonio? On March 9, 1916, Mexican revolutionary Gen. Francisco “Pancho” Villa led a surprise attack on Columbus, New Mexico, in which 18 American soldiers and civilians were killed, and local buildings along with homes were looted and burned. Brig. Gen. John J. Pershing, stationed at Fort Bliss, was ordered by President Woodrow Wilson to capture Villa.

Led by Pershing, more than 10,000 troops poured into Chihuahua, including 527 Chinese refugees, who were promised refuge for their work for the U.S. Army during this Punitive Expedition in Mexico. The Punitive Expedition lasted 11 months and ended without Villa’s capture.

In February 1917, the over 500 Chinese men, known as Pershing’s Chinese, entered the U.S. and were detained at Camp Furlong until Pershing recommended the men be sent to San Antonio’s Fort Sam Houston to work for the Army. On June 7, 1917, with a total remaining number of 420, the men arrived in San Antonio. The next day, they began clearing land for barracks and training facilities to be built. Although the work was estimated to take three or four months, the group completed the task in five weeks; they then continued their work for the Army.

The Connection Between Pancho Villa & San Antonio's Chinese Residents

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Congress passed a law in 1922 granting the refugees legal residence, and an estimated 50 percent of the Chinese remained in San Antonio permanently. Bexar County soon replaced El Paso as the county with the most Chinese and, by 1940, San Antonio had 47 percent of the total Chinese population in Texas. San Antonio is also home to The First Chinese Baptist Church, which is the oldest Chinese Church in the Southern United States. Began in 1919 after an encounter between a Chinese man and a local woman regarding learning English, the Chinese Gospel Mission was organized in 1923. Read more about the intricate history of Chinese immigrants in Texas here and know your Lone Star State!