Mission's Colorful History Unites the Community

May 4, 2011 at 7:56 pm EST

Anytime you visit a border town, you expect a blending of cultures, but the vibrant South Texas town of Mission doesn’t homogenize its diversity; it enthusiastically embraces both American and timeless Mexican traditions to create a rich, bi-cultural climate that celebrates the best of both worlds. Settled by Spaniards, the influence of Mission’s roots is vividly displayed through many uniquely Hispanic traditions and holiday celebrations, mouth-watering dishes flavored by fiery peppers and spices, flamboyant folkloric dance characterized by dancers’ swirling, bright skirts and stamping staccatos, and the passionate ballads of mariachi bands that often include several generations of musicians.

Tejano Means Unity in Mission

Mission is one of those rare communities that successfully blends rich history with a culture all its own. More than 80 percent of Mission’s population is Hispanic, and many local families have been in the area for generations – even predating Texas' addition to the United States. The city's Tejano culture – the blending of Mexican and American cultures – that makes this area so special.

In the Beginning

The La Lomita Mission is not only part of the city of Mission’s heritage, it is also the source of its name. Its origin dates to 1865, when Father Bugnard began to build his Oblate mission on a small knoll near the Rio Grande River, where some Roman Catholic priests from the Calvary of Christ order had previously gathered. The name la Lomita came from the Spanish term for “little hill.” The land around the mission was sold for development in the early 1900s, but the chapel, a restored water well and a few other features still remain.

Cultural Glossary

Another colorful example of Mission’s heritage is the quinceanera, an elaborate party thrown by families of Hispanic heritage to mark a daughter’s 15th birthday. As rites of passage, quinceaneras often feature long gowns for the celebrant and many symbolic and spiritual rituals, such as the presentation of a ring to represent the daughter’s coming responsibilities, and flowers to represent her new life. Another timeless tradition celebrated in Mission is Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. The Mission Historical Museum features Day of the Dead displays, including poignant examples of individualized altars to honor the memory of deceased loved ones during the event. Sometimes misunderstood to be a morbid holiday, the Day of the Dead is instead a festival to both remember the dead and celebrate the continuity of life. Held during the first two days of November, the tradition includes families welcoming deceased loved ones back into their homes and visiting their grave sites. At cemeteries, graves are blanketed with bright marigold flowers, and families often picnic by the graves, feasting on spiced meat dishes, chocolate drinks, sugar confections in animal or skull shapes, and a special, sweet egg-batter bread pan de muerto, or bread of the dead. While the influence of Mexico is undeniable, residents are quick to point out that many waves of immigrants from other countries, such as Scotland, Denmark and Germany, have added their own stamp on the city’s identity.

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