Proceedings of the Second Annual Mission Research Conference
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The Hispanic Missions of Texas: An Interpretation
Professor Manuel Mendoza, M.A.
Stephen F. Austin State University
Nacogdoches, Texas

My first question, as a language teacher, of course, deals with the fact that in almost all the information from historians and other scholars, I found the term "Spanish" applied to the colonial missions in Texas. The question is, would it be too much of a change if we dropped the word "Spanish" and looked for another adjective to use in this expression?

I will complete my question by trying to interpret its meaning this way: Within the contexts of Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo-American cultural traditions, our Texas missions are related to Spain, Mexico, and the United States, respectively. Historically, they can be reviewed from their original Spanish and Mexican foundations all the way to their present reality in the American cultures of the Southwest.

Here I am not considering our missions in their Spanish and Mexican origins only, but reviewing them as they project themselves from these origins to their pluri-cultural situation here and now.

Also, while I was listening at this conference, I heard very little about Mexico or about the Indians who certainly contributed a lot, not passively, but actively, in the founding of these missions.

Three reasons lead me to suggest the use of a new term in reference to these institutions. These reasons are:

First: That the word "Spanish" refers only to a no longer existing factor, which used to be the colonial domination of Spain over Mexico.

Second: That Mexico, even as a colony of Spain, should be credited with her own contributions of missionaries and other people and resources from places like Queretaro, Zacatecas, etc.

The third, and possibly most important, is the fact that we should consider our own heritage as a present reality, not only as a past, that eventually might be lost in some respect. Actually, in our contemporary, pluri-cultural situation in Texas, the term "Hispanic" permits us to comprehend not only the Spanish but many other elements of Mexican and Indian cultures that are enriching us here and now.

This was my first question dealing with the expression "Spanish Missions". I made it as a language teacher. Spanish language is what I teach.

Now, for the other question, how an interpretation can be found which makes us better understand either conceptually or historically the meaning of the mission in Texas, the Catholic colonial missions in Texas? Many historians explain the founding of the Texas missions as some kind of frontier or borderland institutions, mainly in the eastern areas bordering Louisiana. Apparently, these institutions were means for the Spaniards to expand and colonize in confrontation with the French and conquer for themselves Indian lands and people. This is undeniable, but only a partial historical factor.

To fully understand these Catholic, colonial Spanish missions, we need more than just a factor. We need fact-based concepts that explain not only the initial foundation, but also the historical existence of these missions through the centuries.

A factual explanation of a historical institution should come from its own purpose as far as this purpose was built in and did materialize in that institution. The only purposes of a Christian and Catholic mission that we may think of and verify as historically valid and effective through time, are these: evangelization and service. In this "Semana de las Missiones" I will consider only the second purpose, which is "to serve" locally the people in the community.

"Serving people" may undoubtedly be considered a complete historical fact which explains the existence of our Hispanic missions in Texas, from their beginnings in the early 18th century on to our times (and the times to come in a foreseeable future). In this connection we do not need to remember the French.

Also, today, the 6th of August, is the 257th anniversary of Antonio Margil's death in Mexico City. This year, 1983, is the 300th anniversary of the coming to America of this same missionary. He was the founder of several missions in Texas, including San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, the "Queen of the Missions" here. We have not heard much about him on this occasion.

Another critical element I want to add is that we should also consider the people served by the missions, since these people have contributed to the building and conservation of the missions. They are not like children or some kind of intellectually underdeveloped people. Spanish "padres" and missioners used to consider Indians paternalistically, as their own children. On the other hand, the idea of being intellectually underdeveloped is thought of in relation mainly to some people served by Catholic rural missions, even today in several places in our state. What I think is that any individual in a Mission or anywhere, deserves to be considered, in any instance, as a whole and integral human person. It is precisely by the active and effective contributions of all these persons served by the missions, that our colonial buildings presently are and still will be of service in the future.

In conclusion, I want to present these two suggestions: First, that we should refer to our Texas missions as "Hispanic", rather than "Spanish", to include more cultural elements than the purely Spanish from Spain.

Second, that above and beyond any political, external reasons, we should emphasize the inner, spiritual structures of the Texas missions, as bases for a logical and historical explanation. This explanation will help us understand them better not only in their historical (artistic, cultural, religious) origins, but also in the preservation of their material constructions throughout the centuries.

Manuel Mendoza, M.A.
Stephen F. Austin State University
Nacogdoches, Texas
Photo courtesy of Manuel Mendoza

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Last Updated: 24-Apr-2011