In San Antonio, Hispanic Heritage Month recalls a turbulent and bloody history

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Waving Mexican flags and making noise, the people of San Antonio celebrated the 200th anniversary of the end of the Mexican War of Independence.

Known as “El Grito”, in reference to the iconic battle cry of revolutionaries, the success of the September 15 event was indisputable proof that Mexico and San Antonio remain culturally linked more than 170 years after their separation. . No one needed a reminder as the community kicked off Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs until October 15.

“What makes us unique when it comes to other cities that can celebrate Hispanic heritage (is that) it’s really part of the fabric of what makes us a city,” said Krystal Jones, Director Acting Executive of the Department of San Antonio. Arts and culture.

The city worked with the Mexican Consulate General in San Antonio and several other agencies to welcome El Grito. The elaborate festivities included a concert by musician Azul Barrientos and two performances by the Guadalupe Dance Company.

The event was more than a chance to party for many Mexican Americans in attendance.

Mother-daughter duo Alejandra Valdez and Eirin Albritton said the event was “really important, really special” to them. Both are teachers who recently moved to San Antonio from the border town of Del Rio.

“We were raised very, very Mexican,” so we want to “make sure we pass it on to family members, to future generations, to our students so that they can feel that fervor of being able to comfortably accept two cultures. It’s an important thing, “Valdez said as the background cries of” ¡Viva la México! “Almost drowned her.

For most of its history, San Antonio has belonged to a country other than the United States. In 1521, the Spanish conquistadors led by Hernan Cortes and their native allies succeeded in wresting control of the country we know today as Mexico from the Aztec Empire.

The dancers kicked off Hispanic Heritage Month on Wednesday, September 15 in the historic Market Square.

Kin Man Hui, San Antonio Express-News / Staff Photographer

In 1718, Spanish settlers built the first mission and presidio in a small border town in the heart of the province of Tejas; the site had been named after Saint Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of lost objects, 27 years earlier because it had been “discovered” on his feast day, June 13.

The settlers chose the location strategically – it was sandwiched between two major water sources, the San Pedro Creek and the San Antonio River. However, engineers “altered hydrology to such a degree” over the intervening centuries “that what the Spaniards saw we no longer see,” said Professor Char Miller of Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. .

Miller taught history at Trinity University in San Antonio for 26 years and wrote several books on local history, including “San Antonio: A Tricentennial History” and “West Side Rising: How the 1921 San Antonio floods devastated a city and sparked a Latin American movement for environmental justice. “

“One way to get a feel for the durability of the Spanish impact is to walk between the main and military squares. Head east to the Alamo and realize that every inch you cover, every step you take, you are walking on a landscape that the Spaniards designed, that is, designed ”, a Miller said.

In 1731, San Antonio began to develop when 14 immigrant families from the Canary Islands, another Spanish colony, arrived to help missions, or religious outposts, and a presidio, or strong. However, the workforce was not limited to natives of this Macaronesian archipelago, according to Miller. When they planted their flag in the sandy land, the explorers were not claiming a deserted oasis – they were supplanting a native tribe.

The Payaya Native Americans were nomads who lived by hunting and foraging. Their traditional diet included bison, blackberries, blackberries, mescal beans, and prickly pears. Like many other indigenous peoples, they were closely in tune with the rhythms of the local ecology.

Spanish castaway Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, who was shipwrecked off the coast of Texas in 1528 and spent the next eight years traveling south Texas, recalled seeing the Payaya burns controlled from the surrounding plains and forests to enrich the soil and chase animals into the open.

It is they who “built the acequias, or irrigation ditches. They are the ones who built the missions. And so while we talk about them as Spanish missions, it’s the indigenous workforce that actually does most of the work, and that tends to get lost, ”Miller said.

In 1821, Mexican forces overthrew their Spanish overlords and declared independence from Spain. Then, in 1836, the province of Texas declared independence from Mexico and renamed itself the Republic of Texas. However, the region’s new autonomy was fleeting. In 1845, the United States annexed it, infuriating Mexico so much that the two came to blows.

“San Antonio is perhaps the most contested city in what is now the United States,” Miller said. “And the fighting was brutal, absolutely brutal, on both sides. “

The American-Mexican War began in 1846 and ended with an American victory in 1848. However, the conquest does not erase centuries of history. Today, proof of San Antonio’s Hispanic roots can be found in everything from signage to cooking to federal data.

People who identified as Hispanic or Latino made up the majority – 64% – of the city’s more than 1.5 million residents in 2020, according to the US Census Bureau.

It’s no coincidence that many Latinos have roots in San Antonio. Identical twin brothers and powerful politicians Joaquin and Julian Castro were born to local civil rights activist Rosie Castro in 1974.

Joaquin represents the 20th Congressional District of Texas in the United States House of Representatives, and Julian served as U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama from 2014 to 2017 after serving as mayor of San Antonio. Most recently, Julian ran for president in the 2020 election cycle.

Other famous Alamo City sons and daughters include chef Johnny Hernandez, artist Albert Gonzales, actress Michelle Rodriguez, and five-time Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter and accordionist Flaco Jimenez.

Like modern Mexico itself, the Guadalupe Dance Company also celebrated an anniversary at El Grito 2021: its 30th. The troupe first performed in San Antonio at El Grito in 1991. Dressed in dresses as shiny as tropical bird feathers, the dancers swirled in the arms of their waiting partners, their ruffled skirts billowing around. their calves. The numbers come from the Mexican states of Puebla, Colima, Jalisco and Veracruz.

“I think it’s important for us to stay distinct and remember our roots and our language and remember what we’re made of,” said Anai Ramirez, Director of Marketing and Communications at Guadalupe Cultural Arts. Center.

Many San Antonio residents of Mexican descent, she added, are unfamiliar with traditional Mexican arts because they “are not necessarily legally related to Mexico.”

Hundreds of people – couples, siblings, parents and children – sipped margaritas and munched on tacos as they watched dancers perform a series of complicated steps to celebrate Mexican independence.

Many in the audience wore shirts and face masks that bore the same pattern: three vertical stripes of green, white and red. Or, in other words, a symbol of their national and cultural allegiance to the country across the border, so near and yet so far.

After all, “before the Spaniards came, we were Mexicans,” Ramirez said. “And we’re still here.

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