TEXAS CITY — From his wallet, Manuel Urbina pulls out his “Pancho Villa money.”
It’s a 25-cent bank note the Mexican revolutionary Francisco Villa had printed in 1913 to help pay for his cause, said Urbina, a professor of history, Spanish and government at College of the Mainland for the past 47 years.
Urbina, 74, will retire this year as one of the last original faculty members of the college. But before he steps off the campus, he will help organize the college’s Cinco de Mayo festival, a celebration he started 40 years ago.
Urbina keeps his history, both his own as a young immigrant from Mexico and the long and winding history of Mexico and the United States, close to his heart. It’s that history that has kept him rooted to the college and to the area.
Urbina was 7 when he came to Texas. His father was a pastor in a Mexican Baptist church and moved his family to Brazoria County to continue his missionary work.
Urbina arrived knowing no English. He attended a segregated, all-Mexican school in Angleton. Learning English seemed daunting, but he would go on to master the language and was selected to give the graduation speech for his high school.
Urbina went off to college, first to Howard Payne then to the University of Texas for both a master’s and a doctoral degree. He also studied law at the University of Houston, as well as spent time at the National University of Mexico and Cambridge University.
“Education was always emphasized in my family,” Urbina said.
The seven siblings in his family share 14 degrees, he said.
His parents, the Rev. Manuel Urbina and Irene Salce de Urbina, a teacher, had much to do with the scholarly bent of their children, Urbina said.
It was his family ties that eventually brought him back to the Bay Area at 27 and led him to apply for a position with College of the Mainland as it prepared to open in 1967, he said.
While he is retiring from teaching, he is not done with his life’s work.
Urbina, who’s already published one book on Mexican and Texas history, has three more planned.
While he is almost out the door, Urbina said he hopes the festival he started at the college to celebrate Mexican-American culture and bring different groups and communities together will live on.
He started the Cinco de Mayo festival to bring together the various Hispanic and Latino groups in the area, increase the Mexican-American community presence on the college and enhance the college’s impression on the community, Urbina said.
Urbina said as far as he could tell, the celebration at College of the Mainland was something of a first.
“In 1974, there was no Cinco de Mayo festival in this entire area,” he said.
People from Houston, Galveston and Beaumont would attend.
“After we started here, people started coming here and then they started their own, which is beautiful,” he said. “And now every nook and cranny, elementary school, even shopping centers have Cinco de Mayo celebrations.”
Cinco de Mayo commemorates the victory of Mexican forces over French forces in 1862. But now the festival has grown into a symbol of celebration of Mexican-American heritage, Urbina said.
“It’s a Mexican holiday which celebrates the diversity of American society,” Urbina said.
At a Glance
WHAT: College of the Mainland’s Cinco de Mayo Festival
WHEN: 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. While the holiday is Monday, the observance is scheduled for Tuesday.
WHERE: College of the Mainland, 1200 N. Amburn Road, Texas City
About the holiday
Cinco de Mayo marks the victory of the Mexican Army over occupying French forces at the Battle of Puebla, May 5, 1862.