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August 2014

Multiculturalism is at the heart of the Texas experience

by Jeff Heilman

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Created by legendary Austin advertising agency GSD&M; (also behind “Don’t Mess With Texas”), the enduring “Texas: It’s Like A Whole Other Country” tourism tagline speaks powerfully to the Lone Star State’s vast scale, unique identity and singular place in the American experience. Only Texas, after all, has flown six different flags, starting with Spain in 1519.

In the spirit of the slogan, Texas could also be described as being like “a whole bunch of other countries” for its diversity of identifiable ethnic groups. Foremost, of course, were the Native Americans, the first people to experience the Spanish arrival. Credit these colonizers with introducing future defining Texan brand stamps: cattle and cowboys.

The French were also early claimants to Texas (1685), followed by other Europeans. The first Polish colony in the U.S. was established at Panna Maria, near San Antonio, in 1854, around the time Germans and Czechs were finding central Texas en masse. Arrivals today, meanwhile, hail from Iran, Cambodia, Vietnam, India and Africa, to say nothing of Texas’ global tourism appea).

What is it to be Texan? As groups will discover through the following experiences and venues, the answer has many faces.

Stirring the Pot
With its blend of Spanish, Mexican and German heritage, San Antonio embodies the layers laid down in Texas through the centuries. Earlier this year, the city’s five famed Spanish missions were nominated for UNESCO World Heritage status.

Representing the largest collection of Spanish Colonial architecture in North America, Mission Concepcion, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan, Mission Espada and Mission San Antonio de Valero, better known as the Alamo, were built in the early 1700s to convert Native Americans to Christianity and establish Spain’s sovereignty in the region. Now linked by the new Mission Reach extension of River Walk, these treasures date to the original melting pot of Western, Latino and European cultures that spread across Texas and the U.S.

Politics related to Palestine’s membership in UNESCO remain an obstacle, but if successful, the missions’ inscription would make them the first UNESCO-protected site in Texas.

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