The National Parks


Untold Stories | San Antonio Missions: Keeping History Alive

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is a thriving hub for the city's Latino community, the park hosts Spanish and English language masses throughout the week, celebrates traditional Hispanic festivals year-round, and educates more than 50,000 school children annually about our nation's Hispanic heritage.

AIRED: June 27, 2012 | 0:12:07

- (drums beating)

- Do you know what we're doing here?

This is part of the Day of the Dead celebration.

We're making skulls and sometimes people think

skulls are scary but they're not scary, they're smiling

because they defeated death, they're happy.

That's what we're doing, we're showing

that death is not anything to be afraid of.

Is that yours?

- (talking in Spanish)

The Day of the Dead, it's a wonderful celebration

of remembering all those who have gone before us.

And the people they come together in the cemetery,

they clean up the graves, they light candles,

they bring food even.

And they spend the day meeting relatives

they haven't seen the whole year.

And they talk about their loved ones

whose remains are buried there.

It's a very joyful day.

It's not a gloomy celebration at all.

- [Narrator] The Day of the Dead predates even the Aztecs.

When the Spanish conquered the New World

they permitted the tradition to continue.

The Catholic Church allowed it to be celebrated

along side its masses.

By the late 1700s the land we know as Texas

was a Mexican state on the northeastern frontier

of the Spanish empire.

It was uncharted territory.

When the French threatened to expand westward,

Spain reasserted its control by building

fortified missions throughout the colonies.

- They were indigenous cultures who lived in this area

that happened to be nomadic.

To hold the frontier, you needed to make

the Indians into farmers.

You get them to become part of the community.

The mission system would be the proxies by which

the indigenous people would be settled in one place.

Conversion did not mean just adopting a European religion.

It meant changing their lifestyle.

- [Dava] The culture that started within the missions

was a blend of Spanish and native.

This was the roots of the city of San Antonio

it was the first page of Texas history.

- [Narrator] Spain had established missions

throughout Texas.

Five were built along the San Antonio River.

The first, Mission San Antonio de Valero,

would come to be known as the Alamo.

Today the four others make up San Antonio Missions

National Historical Park.

- [Dava] A mission was more than just a church.

A mission was a community, where everything you need

is within the walls that provided protection.

The Natives and the Franciscan priests and a few soldiers

built a community together, inter-marrying,

living by way of new vocations.

- Each of the missions was really its own

little outpost in the frontier.

So everything they ate, everything they wore,

every implement they used

had to be produced in the missions.

- Do a strip about 10 centimeters wide, take that down

your level and let me look at it again.

This is the Rancho de los Cabras in Floresville, Texas.

Floresville is extremely lucky to have one of the only

intact ranching communities associated with colonial Texas.

We think it was occupied between 1740 and 1770

by Native Americans, the cowboys out here.

- [Narrator] Ranches were an integral part

of the mission system.

They supplied the community with beef, goats, wool

and other essentials.

Today, volunteers are digging, sifting through the dirt,

helping to discover the history of this ranch.

Some are actually descendants of the original cowboys.

- [Woman] He found like a claw or something.

- [Man] Oh he did?

Did he find any more bones?

- We're sifting for Spanish Colonial pottery, bones.

Whatever we can find.

Obviously his ancestors were really, really interesting.

We never left the area, we've been here forever

and ever and ever.

We're proud of that and we just want to tell

our story to the world basically.

- The true story.

- Yes, the other side of the story.

- People talk about the West and the cowboy.

Well they think of it further West, they don't think of it

as starting here, and it started here.

It was the Indians that really are the roots of the cowboy.

- [Woman] We would like to tell the stories

of individual families that descended from these peoples

and how we are still here.

- [Priest] In the name of the Father, and of the Son

and of the Holy Spirit.

- [Group] Amen.

- [Priest] Today we're celebrating

the Feast of All Souls Day.

- I attended Mission San Jose and I still go there.

I was born and raised there.

My grandmother gave them the granaries inside the mission.

Our families go back to the late 1700s, 1800s.

We need to know what our heritage is

and where we come from.

- [Felix] Although the crown financed the missions

and the church administered it,

the mission did not belong to the crown or to the church.

It belonged to the indigenous people for whom

the mission was founded.

- [Narrator] By the early 1800s, the Franciscans

felt their work was done.

They turned over the missions to the people.

- [Dava] The Franciscan priests were moved to California

and there was no one to take care of the property.

So they began to fall into disrepair.

- [Felix] So you had ruins and then it wouldn't be until

the end of the 19th century that there would be

a preservation program.

- Adina De Zavala was pretty much

the single-handed savior of these missions.

She was the standard bearer for the preservation

of Texas history.

- She's a woman of Spanish descent, very feisty,

very tenacious.

She calls herself a jealous lover of Texas history.

And it's at a time when women don't even have

the right to vote.

- Miss Adina had the passion for conservation.

She put herself on the line and barricaded herself

inside the Alamo and then dared the wrecking crew

to come and knock down the walls.

She was creating an awareness that they needed

to be preserved.

- [Dava] She got a horse and buggy and would collect

sand, cement, cedar posts, fencing to shore up the missions.

Because she could see that they were crumbling.

- She was able to put to shame some public officials

if they came up with some notion

that they were gonna destroy historic sites.

I think she convinced a lot of people.

She would say something like, "If this were Virginia

you wouldn't even think about that."

- (chanting in Latin)

- [Dava] Adina de Zavala and the conservation society

are actually instrumental in having the Franciscan Order

come back into the missions.

All of the missions are still active parishes.

The parishioners still consider the lands to be their home.

- [Narrator] San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

is the only national park in America with active churches.

Responsibilities are split.

The Archdiocese maintains the interior of the sanctuaries

and the National Park Service takes care

of the outer walls and the grounds.

It is a unique partnership.

- [Dava] The missions are centers of not only

religious faith but festivals and family.

The Hispanic culture is still very much alive today.

- [Narrator] Adina de Zavala's dream for the missions

of San Antonio has come true.

History has not just been remembered

it is part of the community's daily life.

- [Ernest] The missions of San Antonio would not exist today

without Adina de Zavala.

People in Texas did not have the sensitivity

towards Spanish history, Mexican history.

She is an unsung hero.

- [Felix] This place here, these missions, are a window

to the North American experience.

The missions are part of American history.

They're living cultures, they're still evolving.

(slow Mexican guitar music)