Blessed with Tourists: The Borderlands of Religion and Tourism in San Antonio / Edition 1

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More than a million tourists visit religious landmarks in San Antonio, Texas, each year, observing and sometimes participating in religious activities there. The San Antonio Missions National Historical Park—managed by the National Park Service, in cooperation with the Catholic Church—is one of hundreds of religious places in America and around the world where tourists have become a familiar presence. In Blessed with Tourists, Thomas S. Bremer explores the intersection of tourism and commerce with religion in American, using the missions and other San Antonio sites as prime examples.

Bremer recounts the history of San Antonio, from its Native American roots to its development as a religious center with the growth of the Spanish colonial missions, to the modern transformation of San Antonio into a tourist destination. Employing both ethnographic and historical approaches, Bremer examines the concepts of place, identity, aesthetics, and commercialization, demonstrating numerous ways that modern market forces affect religious communities. By identifying important connections between religious and touristic practices, Bremer establishes San Antonio as a distinctive source for anyone seeking to understand the interplay between the religious and the secular, the traditional and the modern.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
The book is well written and accessible to a large audience and addresses current issues in American cultural studies, such as race and class. . . . Scholars . . . will find this book impressive and helpful for thinking about the relationship between religion and tourism.—Journal of American Folklore
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807855805
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 12/13/2004
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas S. Bremer is assistant professor of religious studies at Rhodes College.

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Read an Excerpt

Blessed with Tourists

The Borderlands of Religion and Tourism in San Antonio
By Thomas S. Bremer

The University of North Carolina Press

Copyright © 2004 The University of North Carolina Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8078-2912-9

Chapter One

Destination San Antonio

On June 13, 1691, a day in the Roman Catholic calendar that celebrated San Antonio de Padua, Fray Damian Massanet recorded in his diary the creation of a new place. He wrote: "We entered a stretch which was easy for travel and advanced on our easterly course. Before reaching the river there are other small hills with large oaks. The river is bordered with many trees, cottonwoods, oaks, cedars, mulberries, and many vines. There are a great many fish and upon the highlands a great number of wild chickens.... We found at this place the rancheria of the Indians of the Payaya nation. This is a very large nation and the country where they live is very fine. I called this place San Antonio de Padua, because it was his day. In the language of the Indians it is called Yanaguana."

Fray Massanet headed the religious contingent of a Spanish colonial expedition sent to the northern borderlands of Spain's American colonies. This small group of missionaries and soldiers traveled with the ambitious goals of exploring and describing this mostly unknown territory, establishing friendly relations with the native peoples there, and founding eight Christian missions in the region. On this particular day, the Europeans had entered a landscape that the military leader of the expedition, Governor Domingo Teran de los Rios, described as "the most beautiful in New Spain." The Spaniards rapidly set about making it a Christian place by erecting a large cross and building an altar beneath an arbor of cottonwood trees. The priests celebrated Mass, and the soldiers "fired a great many salutes" as the indigenous Payayas watched. A translator explained to the native onlookers that the ceremonial display was for "the honor, worship, and adoration" that the Spaniards "owed to God ... in acknowledgement of the benefits and great blessings" that he gave them. The indigenous Payayas, however, likely did not realize that they were relinquishing their own place of Yanaguana to a site that the Europeans claimed in the act of naming it San Antonio de Padua.

This place of abundant waters on the broad plain of the Texan space became something new on that June day; indeed, the Spanish expedition made it a Christian place, a European place, a colonial place. At the same time, however, it was also another place, a place that the Payaya people called Yanaguana. The indigenous site was an entirely different sort of place from the one established by the Europeans that day, even though they shared the exact same space in the same moment. In fact, this same space would become many places in the coming centuries.

In these places, as in all places, there was something locative and something itinerant. In other words, all places include stationary features of location, what I refer to as the "locative" dimensions of place. These emphasize the power and stability of location, and they include architecturally constructed forms such as buildings, monuments, or enclosures as well as distinctive geographic features of the natural landscape such as rivers, caves, or mountains. Regardless of the nature of the markers that make a place recognizable, a locative understanding regards a particular place as a stable, ordered arrangement. On the other hand, the "itinerant" refers to the unstable, ephemeral dimensions of place that highlight mobility, movement, and contingency. Places, as they are created and maintained in the imaginations and practices of people who recognize them as meaningful, are never static: their inherent contingencies and the historical forces of change eventually undermine all pretensions to permanence. Moreover, places have their meaningful genesis in the itineraries of human movements. Indeed, undifferentiated "space" becomes a recognizable "place" in the movements of travelers who map the spaces they traverse into conceptual categories.

Thus an itinerant understanding of space naturally regards travel practices as a key element in the making of places: travel practices situate places in space. I take an expansive view of what constitute these practices; certainly, travel practices include travel itself, but they also include the practices that motivate and facilitate travel. In other words, travel practices as I understand them encompass any practice, discourse, or circumstance that either necessitates translocal movement or generates desire for and encourages people to travel; moreover, they include modes of transportation, long-distance networks of communication, and various accommodations for lodging, food, currency exchange, linguistic translation, cultural interpretation, and other needs that travelers might have. Thus both traveling outsiders and resident insiders participate in the travel practices that make places. I contend that travel practices of one sort or another are associated with every place. A particular locale becomes a "place" only in relation to the movements of people who designate it as such, and therefore the practices that make such movements possible are an inherent dimension in the production of the place.

The creation of San Antonio as a place demonstrates the fundamental role of travel practices from long before the first arrival of Europeans all the way up to the present. The places that make up San Antonio have always been sustained by movements-whether the itinerant patterns of early native peoples or the peregrinations of today's tourists-and their associated practices. Certainly, the production of San Antonio as a distinct place on the map and in the minds of both residents and visitors has a complex and multifaceted history. But in this chapter I draw attention to the role of travel and the practices involved in travel, including those that make travel possible and desirable, as fundamental to the making of the place now known as San Antonio. In short, I recount the history of San Antonio in terms of the travel practices that have made it a place.

The Native Place of Yanaguana

Travel and its related practices have defined what is now San Antonio from the very beginning of human experience in the region. Long before Europeans arrived in what they would come to call Texas, indigenous peoples traversed the region according to strategies for finding sustenance that patterned their culture of mobility. The earliest peoples in the area, whom archaeologists call "Paleo-Indians," hunted the now-extinct mastodons and great bison, following them across the land as early as eleven thousand years ago. The presence of water in the Olmos Basin that San Antonio now occupies probably attracted these earliest indigenous hunters; the zone of active springs at the headwaters of the San Antonio River likely was a popular site for Paleo-Indian camps. Some of these camps may even have become semipermanent over time. In later millennia, as modern environments developed in the Olmos Basin, people in the area prospered. Their hunting and gathering way of life was semisedentary, with seasonal migrations. Favorable conditions throughout the region allowed this mostly itinerant culture to persist longer there than almost anywhere else in North America; the Paleo-Indians' mobile lifestyle supported a substantial population in what is now Texas for up to eight thousand years.

The cultural patterns associated with the native life of hunting and gathering were still very much evident when the Teran expedition (as it has come to be called) passed through the region in June 1691. But the Spaniards encountered a locative place established within the context of the itinerant proclivities of the native people. According to Fray Massanet's testimony, the Payayas who occupied the rancheria (or encampment) that the Spaniards came upon called the place "Yanaguana." The exact meaning of the term has been lost, but it seems to have referred to the specific locale where the Indians were camped. Small kinship groups that lived and traveled together preferred to set up their encampments near both a water source and a supply of wood as they pursued a nomadic lifestyle that followed seasonal fluctuations in food sources. The wooded banks of the river were an ideal location for regular seasonal habitation. Consequently, the banks became a designated place with a specific name, "Yanaguana," a place that offered a locative stability in the itinerant ways of indigenous life. But even in its locative aspect, the place contained no permanent structures; indeed, the only enduring evidence that there was a pre-European place there is the word "Yanaguana" recorded in the diary of the Spanish missionary Fray Damian Massanet on the occasion of the meeting between the Payayas and the Europeans.

An encounter of this type had been anticipated by the Payayas for decades. Undoubtedly, an awareness of the advancing Spaniards and of the consequences of their incursions into indigenous spaces had reached the peoples of south Texas long before the Teran group came upon the place of Yanaguana. In fact, by the time Europeans began to appear regularly in the area, their impact was already being felt. European diseases decimated native populations as the infectious agents traveled along trade routes and through intertribal contact; by some calculations, 50 to 80 percent of the native population perished from these imported scourges, which probably first appeared several generations before the beginnings of Spanish colonization in Texas. An itinerant destruction quickly overran the locative touchstones of indigenous culture.

The Itinerant Making of a European Place

The arrival of Europeans in Texas brought dramatic changes to native cultures. The travel practices of Spanish explorers, missionaries, soldiers, traders, settlers, and others punctuated the Texan landscape with an entirely new set of places. During the final century and a half of colonial rule in New Spain, an elaborate network of roads, presidios (that is, military outposts), missions, and towns brought Texas into the sphere of European sensibilities of place. Consequently, indigenous peoples were forced to adjust to the colonization of their familiar spaces.

The European creation of Texas as a place began when Spanish navigators on an expedition led by Alonso Alvarez de Pineda sketched a map of the coastline in 1519. But the first Europeans to venture into what is now Texas came accidentally, by way of disaster. As recounted in the famous Relacion of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, the expedition of Governor Panfilo de Narvaez set out from Spain in June 1527 with a fleet of five ships and about six hundred men "to conquer and govern the provinces ... found from the Rio de Palmas to the cape of Florida," that is, all of the coast of the Gulf of Mexico from the present-day Mexican state of Tamaulipas to the tip of the state of Florida. The enterprise faltered from the start. A series of misadventures on the Florida peninsula left many of the party dead from hunger, illness, and battles with native peoples, while leaving the survivors without ships; accordingly, they built five rafts that carried them to the islands along the Gulf Coast of Texas. There they spent over six years living among the various indigenous tribes of the coastal and inland areas; much of the time, they served as slaves to the native peoples. Hardships, disease, and conflicts with their captors reduced the number of survivors to just four. Eventually, this surviving remnant of the original expedition made its way to what is now the coastal state of Sinaloa near the Pacific Ocean in the northwest region of Mexico, where its members encountered Spanish slave hunters. From there, the four weary travelers were taken to the colonial capital city of Mexico-Tenochtitlan, thus returning to the familiar world of European civilization. Among the survivors was Cabeza de Vaca, royal treasurer of the original expedition, who returned to Spain, where he chronicled the fate of the expedition and the experiences of its survivors.

In his account of their odyssey through indigenous spaces of North America, Cabeza de Vaca presented a landscape devoid of European places. He described the native world in great detail, but most of his descriptions lacked indigenous place names. In fact, Cabeza de Vaca tended to present a wholly itinerant world that lacked places altogether. He emphasized the movements of native people in seasonal pursuit of food sources. Without horses, ships, guns, ammunition, provisions, or any means of communicating with other Europeans, Cabeza de Vaca and the other remaining members of the Narvaez group had been unable to avail themselves of familiar travel practices. Consequently, they had no means of establishing places of their own. They lived instead in native places and moved according to native practices of travel.

Few Spanish expeditions followed the ill-fated Narvaez attempt to conquer and govern the North American continent. Spain's colonists in New Spain paid scant attention to the Texas area of their northern perimeter, and the region continued as an indigenous space. But in the later decades of the seventeenth century, the Spanish colonial administration took renewed interest in the northern borderlands when French colonists posed a threat to Spain's previous claims on the Texas territory. In 1684, Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, established a small, tentative colony at what is now known as Matagorda Bay. In response, the alarmed Spanish colonial government initiated a series of expeditions aimed at consolidating its holdings along the northern frontier of its American colonies. These expeditions continued until the 1760s, when the French transferred French Louisiana west of the Mississippi River to the Spaniards after the British defeated the French in Canada.

European notions of place contrasted dramatically with indigenous understandings, primarily in that Europeans entered new spaces with a locative predisposition to build permanent settlements. When the Spanish colonial government learned that French colonists had established themselves in the vast territory that it claimed as Texas, it immediately set out to build places of its own to counteract any French pretensions to the northern borderlands. But the making of European places required decades of explorations; the establishment of travel routes and supply stations; dealings with native peoples, either in terms of pacification and colonization or of defensive measures taken through military means; and the construction of permanent, self-sufficient settlements populated by both immigrant colonists and native peoples adapted to European sensibilities of civilized life.


Excerpted from Blessed with Tourists by Thomas S. Bremer Copyright © 2004 by The University of North Carolina Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction : where tourists meet the sacred 1
Ch. 1 Destination San Antonio 11
Ch. 2 Alamo city 35
Ch. 3 Preserving a precious heritage 63
Ch. 4 Religion at the fair 95
Ch. 5 Inside the national park 117
Conclusion : reburying the past 147
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