Tejano Religion and Ethnicity: San Antonio, 1821-1860

By Wright, Robert E. | The Catholic Historical Review, January 1999 | Go to article overview

Tejano Religion and Ethnicity: San Antonio, 1821-1860


Wright, Robert E., The Catholic Historical Review


Tejano Religion and Ethnicity: San Antonio, 1821-1860. By Timothy M. Matovina. (Austin: University of Texas Press. 1995. Pp. xiv, 168. $24.95.)

This reviewer apologizes for delaying so long in bringing this important monograph to the attention of the readers of this journal. This small book offers a lot more than its title might indicate to the unaware. It is a timely landmark in ethnic studies, Mexican-American studies, and studies of religion in the United States.

In ninety-three pages of text and sixty-two pages of critical notes and bibliography, Matovina presents a thoroughly researched and tightly packed analysis of the complex interplay of ethnic, religious, and political allegiances in the formation of the self-identity of Tejanos (Texas residents of Spanish or Mexican descent) in the first crucial decades of their interaction with Anglos in San Antonio. That town was the first major Mexican population center to be gradually absorbed into the expanding Anglo-American empire. In 1821 it was still a Mexican Catholic town in the new nation of Mexico, which had just gained its independence from Spain. But the Tejanos in Texas gradually lost ground, figuratively and literally, to Anglo foreigners who were allowed to immigrate into their country. The Tejanos were subordinated to an Anglo-dominated regime after Texan independence in 1836, underwent annexation to the United States in 1845, and by 1860 had become an ethnic Catholic minority in Texas and even in San Antonio itself.

Some of Matovina's rnost original work is his demonstration that the people's Mexican Catholic religion was a major and indeed crucial element in the development and strengthening of their self-identity as a people within this broader social reality. He details how the bases were laid in San Antonio for an alternative to the standard United States ethnic model which posits eventual assimilation into the dominant culture. The historical Tejano cultural foundations of San Antonio and the subsequent somewhat balanced tricultural (Mexican, Anglo, German) society of the city after annexation appear to have been important factors.

Matovina does an excellent job of analyzing in a very careful and nuanced fashion the specific political, cultural, and religious choices which defined the Tejanos in San Antonio as neither Mexican nor United States nationalists, but rather as people whose loyalty was first and foremost to their own local people, place, and ways. …

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