Why San Antonio, Texas Is the Perfect Place to Learn About Hispanic History & Culture in America
By: Sucheta Rawal
September 19, 2019
The city of San Antonio, Texas goes back 300 years. It’s where the Spanish claimed the New World and set up missions to colonize the indigenous people. Today, it’s a multicultural metropolis that celebrates its Hispanic heritage through historic neighborhoods, traditional food, unique festivals, and more. So if you’re looking to learn about the Hispanic experience in the United States, you need only to take a trip to the Lone Star state and immerse yourself in San Antonio history and culture.
Don’t believe us? Here are five reasons why San Antonio is THE destination for when it comes to Hispanic history & culture in America:
The Five Missions of San Antonio
The early Spanish settlements in Texas, including San Antonio, were a series of missions and military outposts known as presidios. The most famous of them is Mission San Antonio de Valero (Alamo) near the San Antonio River, followed by four other missions located in San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. Together, with The Alamo, San Antonio’s five historic missions form a UNESCO World Heritage site (the only one in Texas) and are the largest concentration of Spanish Colonial architecture in North America.
Here you can see active catholic parishes offering mariachi masses on Sundays. There are also museums, visitor centers and art exhibits in the park.
It’s a City of Gastronomy
San Antonio is one of only two cities in the US designated a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy, which promote cooperation and shared experience amongst culture-rich cities worldwide throughout a handful of creative fields. Family-run restaurants, celebrity chefs and healthy neighborhood programs are teaming up to preserve the city’s rich culinary history and recipes. The Historic Riverwalk is revitalized with restaurants, shops and weekend markets. Take a boat cruise down the San Antonio river with Go Rio to learn about the city’s history. Or follow the San Antonio Food Trails for the best margaritas, tacos and BBQ.
The Historic Neighborhoods
The Payaya people lived for thousands of years before the Spanish settlers in San Pedro Creek. What was left as a concrete-lined drainage ditch for years, is now restored into a linear cultural park that features murals and interpretive art that focuses on the cultural identity and traditions of the community around the creek. The first segment of the San Pedro Culture Park opened in 2018 as part of the city’s Tricentennial celebration.
On the weekend head to newly opened, The Pearl mixed use district, which is bustling with families visiting farmers markets, grabbing lunch at the food hall, and picnicking in the green courtyard.
Walking around the 3-block squares of the historic Market Square will transport you south of the border. With over 100 locally-owned shops selling traditional clothes and Mexican souvenirs, food stalls making fresh gorditas, and loud mariachi in the background, there is guaranteed cultural immersion.
The Regular Celebrations and Fiestas
Diez y Seiz de Septiembre (Mexico’s day of independence) is a multi-day celebration at the city’s Historic Market Square, highlighting El Grito San Antonio, a musical celebration and historical reenactment of Mexico’s call for independence from Spain.
San Antonio has the largest and most unique Day of the Dead celebration in the US. Over 20 events through October and November feature Latin music, dances, drumming, puppetry, conjunto legends, and an exhibit of altars lining the streets.
Try to book your flights to San Antonio in April so you can experience the more-than-120-year-old San Antonio Fiesta. There are over 100 events citywide, including festive parades, patriotic observances, music concerts, lively fairs, creative culinary offerings and even, a pooch parade for your four-legged companions. Here’s where you can see people dressed up in their finest gowns, parading as Fiesta “royalty.” Restaurants and hotels throughout the city are decorated with colorful streamers, pinatas and wreaths.
The atmosphere during events is family-friendly and filled with great food. You can find food trucks and vendors selling fresh fruit with chili, chicken and jalapeno on a stick, corn tacos and other street foods.
San Antonio Has Arts and Culture to Spare
To watch traditional and contemporary Latinx arts and culture through art, dance, music and theater, head over to Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. The Center hosts several major events and festivals throughout the year including Cine Festival (a film festival), Hecho a Mano outdoor market around the holidays, and the ever-popular Tejano Conjunto Festival.
Centro de Artes at the Historic Market Square, is a two-story exhibit that tells the story of the Latinx experience with a focus on South Texas through local and regional art, history and culture, and showcasing Latino artists and Latino-themed artworks.