Podcast: Hispanic Influence in Galveston, Texas

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pictured: Serrato husband and wife duo

Hispanic influence and Texas culture are synonymous. Galveston, Texas, originally home to the indigenous Karankawa and other nomadic tribes, has experienced its fair share of European influence. Spain's impact however remains one of the strongest in Texas and Galveston.

It is difficult to encompass the effect that an entire population or culture has on any community. For Galveston Island, the Hispanic influence stems back at least 5 centuries.

European Cartographers and navigators had no doubt laid their eyes on a modern-day Galveston in the early 1500s, and in 1519, Spain had claimed a massive stretch of territory in which modern-day Texas was a part of, but the year 1528 was pivotal for this little sandbar off of the coast of Texas. A conquistador named Alvar Nunez Cabeza De Vaca and his enslaved right-hand man from Morocco, Mustafa Azemmouri, also known as Estabanico, shipwrecked on Galveston Island after a failed excursion of the Gulf Coast. His shipwrecked crew were some of the first Europeans to come in contact and provide written accounts of the native peoples and Texas wildlife.

The land within the Texas territory experienced Spain’s acquisition and occupation for the next few centuries. In 1785, Galveston Island was named in honor of the Spaniard Bernardo Vicente de Gálvez y Madrid aka Bernardo De Galvez, Governor of Louisiana, for his assistance to the United States during the American Revolution.

When Mexico won independence from Spain, the sheltered Bahia de Galveston was the venue for the Mexican Government to collect tariffs and operate a customs house. Through the following decade, Texan citizens of Spanish, Mexican, and Central American descent along with Americans, and Eurpoeans fought in the Texas Revolution.

The City of Galveston was founded shortly after the Texas Revolution, and by 1850 there were more than 14,000 residents of Mexican origin living in the newly formed state. Texas was open to immigration, most immigrants arrived from Europe,the United States, and hispanics from Mexico and Central America made their way into Texas. In urban areas like Galveston, Hispanic people, mostly from Mexico, made a living any way they could. They worked as day laborers, in private homes as domestic servants, or in various positions at hotels, restaurants, and commercial laundries.

To name a couple notable Galvestonians, a man named Thomas Gonzales moved to Galveston from Tampico, Mexico in 1853, and opened a wholesale grocery and cotton firm on The Strand. During the Civil War, Thomas Gonzales enlisted in the Confederate Army as a lieutenant. His significant contribution during the war was to serve with Gen. J. B. Magruder during the decisive battle of Galveston.

After the war, Gonzales opened his own cotton firm. He and his sons established contact with textile factories throughout Europe. The firm soon ranked with the largest shippers from the port of Galveston.

Galveston is heavily influenced by countless cultures that have passed through or grew roots in Galveston, maybe even the most important part, Food Culture! Daniel Serratto moved his family to Galveston in 1925, from Lockhart Texas. Daniel Serratto spoke very little English upon his arrival and worked as a laborer for years before following his heart and making an impact on thousands of Galvestonians.

Daniel opened a Tamale Cart and sold his wife's Tamales at the Intersection of Rosenberg Avenue and Broadway from 1941 to the 1970s. Daniel sold the homemade tamales prepared daily at his home, from a mobile food cart. He was dubbed "Dan the Tamale Man."

His dream of having his own business came about through his wife's cooking and his ambition and pride to run his own successful business. His Tamale Cart was an island institution so established that he had business cards printed in English, though he preferred to speak Spanish. He brought happiness to the thousands who were his reliable patrons.

These are a few examples of the countless actions and accomplishments in our community. Galveston Island has been influenced by hispanic trailblazers for nearly 500 years, from shipwrecked explorers to the people I have mentioned in this episode. From Spanish language theatres, to Spanish mission revival architecture scattered about the Island.Large to small, Galveston Island has enjoyed the contributions of hispanic population and culture.

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J.R. Shaw Creator & Host of Galveston Unscripted

J.R. Shaw is the creator and host of Galveston Unscripted Podcast & audio tour. Shaw recognizes that history is nuanced and learning it can be powerful. He's made it his mission to reduce the friction between true history and anyone who is willing to listen! J.R. Shaw focuses on telling the full story through podcasting and social media with the goal of making learning accurate history easy and entertaining for all who seek it.

J.R. grew up along the Texas Gulf Coast, where he learned to love talking with anyone about anything! He started Galveston Unscripted after he realized how much he loved talking to people about their stories related to Galveston Island and Texas History. "So much of our history is lost when we don't have the opportunity to hear from those who lived it or have second-hand knowledge."