- Blessed with Tourists: The Borderlands of Religion and Tourism in San Antonio
In Blessed with Tourists: The Borderlands of Religion and Tourism in San Antonio, Thomas S. Bremer enhances the study of tourism and religion. Scholars of history, folklore, tourism, and religious studies will be interested to see how Bremer brings approaches from these fields together to account for the political, economic, and cultural factors surrounding the dynamics of religion and tourism in San Antonio, Texas.
The introduction lays the intellectual foundation to account for the rise of religion and tourism in San Antonio. It is an appropriate place for research because San Antonio started as a religious site. Today, the city attracts more than a million tourists a year to its sacred spaces, including the Alamo and the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park. Bremer explores four characteristics of tourism—place, identity, aesthetics, and commercialization—to provide a better understanding of the complex and contradictory relationships between it and religion.
The first chapter describes the city's founding, highlighting the Spanish mission building in an area of South Texas known as Yanaguana, which was settled by the Payayas Indian tribe. This discussion is guided by the concepts of the locative and the itinerant. The former refers to the stable features of a site, which may include cultural or natural elements, and the latter refers to the ways in which sacred places change, along with the cultural practices that instill a site with meaning. These concepts clarify the important structures necessary for the emergence of a colonial site and the historical forces that shaped San Antonio into a religious center and a tourist attraction.
To explain the origins of San Antonio as a destination for religious tourists, Bremer focuses on the Alamo, tracing its transformation from a sacred ruin to a national symbol of liberty, freedom, honor, and bravery. After many struggles between the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and commercial interests, the Alamo became a religious and tourist attraction, one that incorporates key cultural values associated with a national identity and suppresses other more negative attributes, such as racism and slavery.
Along with the Alamo, another group of missions—Mission San Jose, Mission Concepcion, Mission San Juan, and Mission Espada—contributed to define San Antonio as a religious-tourism site. Bremer explores the role of two key individuals, Ellen Wilson Harris and Archbishop Robert E. Lucy, who were responsible for developing the missions into tourist attractions. This process was more elaborate and complex than the conversion of the Alamo into a tourist site, involving the struggle between the forces of preservation, cultural romanticism, cultural identity, and religion. Harris struggled to make the missions appear to be pre-Colonial space, free from crude commercial enterprises, and her efforts were informed by the cultural romanticism of the arts-and-crafts [End Page 238] movement. Bishop Lucy, on the other hand, concentrated his work on making the missions more beautiful, attractive, and sacramental for tourists. His main goal was to highlight the role of the Catholic Church in the formation of United States.
According to Bremer, the HemisFair of 1968 provided the impetus for making the San Antonio missions a place where tourists and religious pilgrims would congregate to experience authenticity and sacredness. At the fair, many faiths competed to have space and time to exhibit their beliefs, including Mormons, Lutherans, and Mexican indigenous groups. This combination of religion and touristic performances enabled the Archbishop Patrick Flores and the National Park Service to reach an agreement to make the missions of San Antonio part of an urban national park, leading the way to transform them into museum artifacts.
The National Park Service and the Catholic Church created several spaces that enable visitors to encounter a variety of identities—national, ethnic, and religious; however, the Park Service and the church have differing objectives in the construction of these identities. For example, the Park Service stresses the missions' role in expressing national identity...