Formerly part of Spain and then Mexico, Texas has deep Hispanic roots. Most of the food, entertainment, and cultural celebrations that Texans enjoy are part of their Hispanic heritage. Spanish people were among the original Texans, and their history is part of the legacy of the state. They say if you want to learn about the Hispanic culture in the United States, the city of San Antonio in the Lone Star State is the place to visit.
The city of San Antonio, Texas, was established about 300 years ago. It’s where the Spanish claimed the New World and set up missions among the indigenous people. Today, the city is a multi-cultural metropolis celebrating Hispanic heritage through historic neighborhoods, unique festivals, traditional food, and more. Learn more about the Hispanic cultural influence of San Antonio.
Hispanic History of San Antonio
At the time of the Spanish encounter, the Payaya people were residing near the San Antonio River Valley in the San Pedro Springs area. In 1691, a group of Spanish explorers and missionaries came upon the river and in the Payaya settlement on June 13 that year, on the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua. They named the place “San Antonio” in his honor.
However, it was years before any Spanish settlement took place in the area. In 1709, Father Antonio de Olivarez visited the site and was determined to found a mission and civilian settlement there. The viceroy gave formal approval for a combined mission and presidio in 1716.
With the help of the Payaya and the Pastia people, Olivarez built San Antonio de Valero (The Alamo) and the Presidio San Antonio de Bexar, the bridge that connects them and the Acequia Madre de Valero. These were founded in 1718 to protect the area from the headwaters of the San Antonio River.
In 1719, the Marquis of San Miguel de Aguayo proposed to the king of Spain that 400 families be transported from the Canary Islands, Havana, or Galicia to populate the province of Texas. The king approved of it, and notice was given to the Canary Islanders to bring 200 families.
Under the leadership of Juan Leal Goraz, the group marched overland from Veracruz to the presidio and arrived on March 9, 1731. The immigrants formed the nucleus of the villa in San Fernando de Bexar, the first organized civil government in Texas. Many older families in San Antonio trace their descendants from the Canary Islands colonists.
In 1731, Spain established the town of San Fernando de Bexar when they sent settlers from the Canary Islands to establish a civilian presence. By 1780, San Antonio became the capital of the Spanish province of Texas, and it had a population of about 2,000 – a mixture of Spanish Mexicans, Native Americans, African Americans, and Canary Islanders.
By 1821, Mexico, including San Antonio and the whole of Texas, achieved independence from Spain. San Antonio became part of Mexico then, and Texas gained independence from Mexico and became a republic by 1836.
Spanish Influence in San Antonio
Missions are a big part of Spain’s plan to establish and manage a colonial frontier in what is now known as the American Southwest. The settlements significantly affected the development of the United States, both culturally and politically. The missions were directly involved in the religious, military, and cultural development of the Texas frontier and influenced policy-making in the Southwest.
The contribution of the missions to commerce and agriculture was vital to the growth of Texas and the San Antonio region. The mission buildings also constituted a record of the art, architecture, and sculpture of the Spanish colonial period in Texas.
Here are the biggest Spanish influences in San Antonio:
Through missions, presidios, and civilian communities, missionaries and soldiers Hispanicized and Christianized the native population. The Spanish hoped that with the help of the loyal Indians, a small number of men would be needed to defend the empire’s frontier.
A base for Spanish missionary and military operations in Texas developed around San Antonio. A presidio and two missions were established in the San Antonio River valley around 1718 and 1720, and the Spanish added three new missions in the valley in 1731.
A mission is formed of two distinct groups of people, the hunter-gatherers and the Franciscan missionaries, which is an order of priests who took a vow of poverty to devote themselves to brotherhood, learning, and spreading the word of God. The missionaries instructed the natives in the Catholic faith and in the elements of Spanish peasant society. In the process, the American Indians learned various trades and agricultural work.
Religion became the most crucial factor in shaping the day. At dawn, the church bells rang and called the people to morning prayer, which is then followed by religious instruction. It rings again at noontime and evening when everyone gathers for more prayer and instruction.
The missions were of great importance to agricultural production and changed the way how people in San Antonio do farming and ranching. Each mission had a ranch for raising sheep, goats, and cattle that supplied necessities like meat, wool, milk, cheese, and leather. Spain’s missions introduced European livestock, fruits, and vegetables to the region.
The entire cattle industry, from ranching to cattle driving across long distances, was developed in Mexico 200 years before San Antonio was established. Spanish ranching was practiced in Texas, and it became the basis for the American cattle industry.
Spaniards also brought a specialized method of farming that used irrigation to the San Antonio valley. This system was extended by later settlers and became the foundation of the economy in the city for more than a century. Portions of mission-built irrigation systems are still used today in San Antonio and other parts of Texas.
Through the instruction of the missionaries, lay helpers, and soldiers, the American Indians learned various trades, including masonry, carpentry, and weaving. The mission established these industries, which became vital to maintaining the entire military and political structure of the eastern portion of the Spanish American frontier. Artisans and workers provided a principal source of labor and finished goods in the region.
The Spanish buildings in Texas were a series of religious structures built by Catholic Dominicans, Jesuits, and Franciscans to spread Catholicism among the local Native Americans and give their country a toehold in Texas.
The missions created notable architecture with religious significance. The San Antonio de Valero Mission, which is known for the Battle of the Alamo, is a prime example of this kind of architecture in San Antonio. Most buildings were influenced by Spanish and Mexican design styles, while some are of European influences, such as French Neo-classic elements, Victorian, and Beaux-Arts design.
Why San Antonio is the Place to Learn About Spanish Culture in the USA
The city of San Antonio is a multi-cultural metropolis that celebrates a unique Spanish heritage through historic neighborhoods, traditional Spanish food, unique festivals, and more. If you want to have a Hispanic experience in the United States, you only need to take a trip to the Lone Star State and immerse yourself in the culture and history of San Antonio.
1. The Five Missions
The early Spanish settlements in Texas, including San Antonio, comprised a series of missions and military outposts known as presidios. The most prominent is the Mission San Antonio de Valero, or the Alamo, followed by four other missions: Mission San Juan Capistrano, Mission San Francisco de la Espada, Mission San José, and Mission Concepcion. These missions form a UNESCO World Heritage site and offer the largest concentration of Spanish Colonial architecture in North America.
2. Fiestas and celebrations
San Antonio celebrates Mexico’s Day of Independence at the Historic Market Square, highlighting El Grito San Antonio, which is a historical reenactment of Mexico’s call for independence from Spain.
The city also has the largest and most unique Day of the Dead celebration in the US. More than 20 events through October and November feature some Latin music, drumming, dances, puppetry, conjunto legends, and exhibits of altars lining the streets.
During the Fiesta San Antonio, you can participate and choose from more than 100 events city-wide, including patriotic observances, festive paradise, music concerts, lively fairs, culinary offerings, and even a pooch parade for your dogs. The atmosphere during these events is family-friendly and filled with amazing Spanish food.
3. It’s a city of gastronomy
Speaking of food, San Antonio is one of the only two cities in the US designated as a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy. Celebrity chefs, family-run restaurants, and neighborhood programs team up to preserve the city’s rich culinary history and centuries-old recipes.
You can visit the Historic Riverwalk filled with restaurants, shops, and weekend markets or follow the San Antonio Food Trails for the best tacos, BBQ, and margaritas.
4. Arts and culture
The Guadalupe Cultural Arts and Center are where you want to watch traditional and contemporary Latinx arts and culture through theater, dance, art, and music. This hosts significant events and festivals throughout the year, including the Cine Festival, Tejano Conjunto Festival, and Hecho a Mana outdoor market.
The Centro de Artes at the Historic Market Square is an exhibit to visit. It tells the story of the Latinx experience focusing on South Texas through art, history, and culture.