James Nino (left) and Anthony Delgado voice the thoughts of Canary Island ancestors and descendants in San Antonio during a Sept. 24 presentation at the Central Library.
Photo by Edmond Ortiz
San Fernando de Béxar, the precursor to San Antonio, was formally set up in 1731 near a presidio that was first established by Spain in 1718.
In 1719, the Marqués de San Miguel de Aguayo proposed to the King Philip V of Spain that 400 families be transported from the Canary Islands, Galicia, or Havana to populate the province of Texas.
On March 9, 1731, 56 total Canary Island immigrants had reached San Fernando de Bexar, the first organized civil government in early Texas. What became San Antonio is also one of the oldest cities in the United States.
Several old and even renowned families around San Antonio, including that of the late Robert Tobin, can trace their heritage back to those Canary Islands colonist.
Organizations such as Canary Islands Descendants Association keeps alive not only the rich history and spirit of those original settlers of San Antonio, but ways for modern-day residents to trace their heritage. There's no official estimate of current descendants of those Canary Islands immigrants, but according to some media accounts, there is likely thousands upon thousands.
Anthony Delgado, CIDA's second vice president, and James Nino, son of CIDA officer Mary Nino, held a presentation on Sept. 24 at the Central Library. The presentation, part of the San Antonio Public Library's Hispanic Heritage Month celebration, was a stirring tribute to the settlers from Canary Islands, and their descendants.
Delgado and Nino alternated in the short yet emotional presentation to the audience. Delgado spoke words that could be easily spoken by ancestors, not only his but of countless Canary Islanders who had a role in establishing what we see in San Antonio today.
Nino spoke words that could be uttered by the descendants, who are diverse in many ways and still vital in shaping the community.
Association members and others have gained much knowledge about their ancestors through the library's genealogy department, online genealogy research systems, as well as simply families' histories.
"I was here then and I'm still here today," Delgado said. "I was here then when the air was pure, the land vast, the fish and wildlife bountiful. Our neighbors were the Karankawa, the Kiowa, the Apaches, the Comanches."
Delgado continued: "And I'm still here today. You can find me visiting some of my ancestral homes, the missions of San Antonio. My story isn't well told. I dance so others will know will some of my story and my history…I speak in my native tongues to keep our traditions alive." He also spoke of how those ancestors helped to build San Fernando Cathedral.
Delgado recounted how Canary Islands immigrants helped natives learn how to build acequias and, eventually, the colonial mission. Nino said many originally immigrants became soldiers, and not just then in the 1800s but in succeeding decades, helping to establish the future of Texas and the United States.
"I defended their honor as they defended my mine," he added.
Delgado recounted how ancestors aided Americans in their war for independence from the British. He added that many ancestors helped the Mexicans in their battle for independence from Spain.
"I was here then, pouring my blood into the earth while laying in the battlefield," Delgado said, symbolizing those Canary Islands defendants who fought those battles in the early 19th century.
Other ancestors took on the side of the Texans in their fight against Mexico for self-determination. But after the war for Texas independence was done, descendants Canary Islands immigrants, too, along with remaining Mexicans were seen as undesired within Texas' postwar boundaries.
"I was a soldier, a statesman, a father, a colonel, a vaquero, a farmer and an el calde," Delgado said. "But it wouldn't be long before I became a foreigner in my own land. I remained in hiding, rancho to rancho, for 15 days. Eventually I would leave my beloved country for fear of my life."
The PowerPoint presentation included an account from the San Antonio Ledger, a newspaper from the 1850s. It had an obituary on Jose Delgado, who was attacked and killed on Sept. 12, 1857, by a group of men who sought to rob him of his effects. The obit recounted Jose Delgado’s loyalty and contributions to the Republic of Texas, including the war with Mexico.
“What a catastrophe that a man, who throughout his life had rendered such valuable to the cause of liberty, should have fallen murdered by the hands of a set of dastardly assassins, who are a disgrace to the American name. (Rest) in peace,” the obit stated.
Nino said many descendants can say they are a son or daughter of the American Revolution. Nino added that descendants today could trace their family tree to individuals who fought in World Wars I and II, and following conflicts.
Even now, descendants continue to play all sorts of roles in serving the community, be it as a mother, a teacher or a paramedic.
"Today, I enjoy the freedom that we sought over 200 years ago," Nino said. "I am here today because of all of those who were brave enough to stand up when others laid down, to let my voice be heard when others were silent."
Nino continued: My existence runs through the veins of my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren, grand-nieces and nephews. I am here today.”
Association President Mari Tamez said her organization will pay formal tribute to those original Canary Islands immigrants during the city’s tricentennial celebrations in 2018. Plans right now call for a gathering of dignitaries from around the city and from the islands, and a re-enactment of the original settlers arriving at San Fernando de Bexar.