“Close to shore a wave took us and hurled the barge a horse’s length out of water. With the violent shock nearly all the people who lay in the boat like dead came to themselves, and, seeing we were close to land, began to crawl out on all fours,” Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca wrote in his account of the journey.
The landing in 1528 made Cabeza de Vaca one of the first Europeans on Texas soil. His experiences, which would encompass many years and thousands of miles, contributed to the beginning of an enduring Hispanic culture that shaped the future of Texas and enriched the lives of all who live here.
The Spanish pioneers who eventually followed brought their language and religion. They introduced new agricultural practices and crops, and brought horses and cattle. Their traditions in architecture, art, music, and their contributions in law and medicine are essential parts of the foundation of Texas.
To celebrate these rich contributions, Texans take pride in observing National Hispanic Heritage Month each year. This year’s National Hispanic Heritage Month, which continues through October 15, marks the celebration’s 40th anniversary. It started with a weeklong observance in 1968 and expanded to a month in 1988. Hispanic Heritage Month honors the culture and legacy of Americans who have family roots in Spain, Mexico and the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America, South America and the Caribbean.
According to the Census Bureau, the Hispanic population of the United States is estimated at more than 45 million. The population of Texas includes 8.6 million people of Hispanic origin, second only to California. Their achievements are boundless: in business, government, the Armed Forces, law, education, medicine, science, sports, entertainment – every occupation and endeavor.
So much of what we love about Texas originates with our Hispanic heritage. Many of Texas’ foods, music, art, celebrations and traditions are rooted in Hispanic traditions. Museums and cultural centers offer beneficial opportunities to learn more about our Hispanic traditions. One of the newest, Museo Alameda in San Antonio, is said to be the nation’s largest Latino Museum and the first formal Smithsonian affiliate. Among the many historic sites are the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, El Paso Mission Trail, Goliad State Park and Historic Site and Nacogdoches’ Stone Fort Museum.
We can trace much of our nation’s Hispanic roots back 480 years to the arrival of Cabeza de Vaca and the 80 men who landed with him in the vicinity of Galveston Island. Before long, harsh conditions reduced their number to “four rugged castaways.” They lived in Texas for the next six years among Karankawa, Mariame and Avavares Indians before setting out to find other Spaniards, a meandering journey that led them to Mexico’s Pacific Coast.
When Cabeza de Vaca arrived there, historians note, he had been transformed to a protector of the peoples who lived there first. More often, though, the fusion of cultures in the new world was difficult. But strong and resilient people emerged, and the culture and heritage they shaped are a vital part of the past – and the future – of America.