San Antonio de Texas & Lanzarote

Lanzarote Descendents of the Founders of San Antonio Texas – a new book Published by the Ayuntamiento of Teguise.    

Americans of Lanzarote Origin is a comprehensive work by author José Juan Romero commissioned by the Ayuntamiento de Teguise of the entire history of the Canary Island settlers who established the towns of San Antonio, Texas in 1730 and San Bernard Louisiana in 1783. Of the 56 families who established San Antonio, 44 were from the island of Lanzarote.

The book’s own timeline begins when Teguise Town Historian, Francisco Hernández Delgado, on behalf of the mayor, commissioned a book by writer Armando Curbelo Fuentes in 1993, on the history of the Canary Islanders emigration to America. He spent six months meticulously assembling the data in the archives of the state capital Austin and when his book was published, the Ayuntamiento of Teguise sought to find out whether anyone of Lanzarote origin still lived in San Antonio.

Curbelo Fuentes told them about an organisation of Canary Island Descendants and gave them the name and address of the town historian John Leal who was himself of Lanzarote origin.

The Town Hall turned to the editors of Lancelot, Liz and Larry Yaskiel, who of course spoke English, and they wrote to the historian but their letter was returned as John Leal had moved without registering his new address. This led to enquiries at the American Embassy and Consulate General in Spain, followed by a call to the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, but all to no avail. Purely by chance, a former member of Lancelot who was working as a tourist guide in the Fire Mountains called up out the blue one day to say that an American tourist wearing a San Antonio, Texas T-shirt has asked him what the connection was between his home town and the island of Lanzarote.

This led to contact with Dorothy Perez, the President of the Canary Descendants who visited  Lanzarote as a guest of Teguise Town Hall and was followed by many other San Antonians over the next 25 years and the link continues very actively up to the present day. Dorothy also put them in touch with the Canary Islands descendants of St Bernard, Louisiana.  A major source for the book’s contents are articles published in Lancelot over the past quarter of a century. In fact, the current President of the Canary Island Descendants of San Antonio, Freddie Bustillo, was the guest of honour of Teguise Town Hall when the book was launched in November of this year, with a photograph of Dorothy Perez on the cover.

So, it was on Thursday 16th November that an important event took place in which the relationship between Lanzarote and the North American city of San Antonio de Texas was made even stronger.  Proceedings were opened, though, with a tribute to the late Dr. Alfonso Chiscano who was a true driving force of the association of Canarian Descendants Of San Antonio and was a celebrated figure in Costa Teguise.

Dr. Chiscano’s own son was proud and excited about the publication of this book. In the evening, the library of the town of Teguise hosted the presentation of the book Americans With A Lanzarote Past, by the Lanzarote professor and journalist José Juan Romero. The current president of the association of Canarian Descendants In San Antonio spoke to the audience about the historical context of Lanzarote and San Antonio.

The editor of Lancelot in English and main researcher of the relationship between Lanzarote and San Antonio, Larry Yaskiel, also spoke of the first moment in the point of the process at which they found the first descendant of Lanzarote in San Antonio.

The author himself paid tribute to Mr. Yaskiel for his helpful contribution and enthusiasm and explained how and why the book is published in a particular format.

It is intended to assist the reinforcement of the twinning relationship that Lanzarote enjoys with the seventh most important city in the United States of America.

When I first came to Lanzarote on holiday a quarter of a century ago, I was immediately struck by the similarity of the island landscape to that I remembered from my childhood of the black and white tv Westerns, Wagon Train, Cheyenne etc., with their landscapes of deserts and mountains

I’ve always found the story of San Antonio in Texas particularly fascinating, as there are so many songs about the region on the playlists I brought over here with me, and several new songs that have emerged since, that include the City´s name in their titles.

There are more than twenty San Antonio titles, all of the Americana genre including as San Antonio TX by Frank Black And The Catholics, San Antonio Girl by Lyle Lovett, San Antonio Stroll by Tanya Tucker, and San Antonio Rose recorded by both Patsy Cline and Bob Wills And His Texas Playboys. In fact one of the world´s most celebrated singer writers, Willie Nelson, is also on my lists, having made a duet recording with his son Lucas, himself now also a huge star on the music scene, of a song called Home In San Antonio. Great country groups such as the brilliant Texas Tornados and Pure Prairie League have made recordings that reference San Antonio but perhaps my favourite of all these is Ay Te Dejo En San Antonio by Flaco Jiminez, who was the subject of one my earliest press interviews more than forty years ago. Leonardo “Flaco” Jiménez is an American singer, songwriter and accordionist from San Antonio, Texas. He is known for playing Norteño, Tex Mex and Tejano music. Jiménez has been a solo performer and session musician, as well as a member of the Texas Tornados and Los Super Seven.

When I first met the author, Jose Juan Romero, at Larry’s investiture lunch, we spoke a little about whether the research he was already then undertaking might be expected to reveal some interesting and intriguing musical migratory pathways. When I asked him to sign the book at its launch, some twelve months later, the writer reminded me of that conversation and was delighted to tell me that some such patterns had been uncovered.

San Antonio was founded in 1731, and they are already planning to celebrate the 300th anniversary celebrations.

I have learned since coming to live here eight years ago that the original founders of San Antonio de Texas were from Lanzarote. I first heard that from Larry, of course, and was reminded of some of the finer details in an article published recently by Miguel in a Lanzarote Information newsletter.

He re-told the story of how a total of seven families from the island were sent over to populate the town in Texas, which was then a Spanish colony. 56 people survived the journey and many of the older families in San Antonio can trace their roots back to those few. It’s astounding to think that this small group from our tiny island created what is now a city of 1.5 million people and which is now a major centre for the United States Military, with a GDP of $121 Billion and a hugely diversified economy. Miguel also informed his readers that he and his wife are hoping to go over to join the 300th anniversary celebrations.

I’m pretty certain Larry will have that year marked in his diary too, and as I have written occasionally for both Larry’s Lancelot and weekly for Miguel’s Lanzarote Information and now live on Lanzarote surely I should stowaway and visit the celebrations to make further investigations into the music I love.

That’s a long way off, but Miguel tells a funny story about when he and Julie were on a road trip across America a few years ago. On their first night in Texas, he looked at the map, and exclaimed to Julie: “We’re quite close to San Antonio, and we should go there tomorrow.” It was only a few CM on the map, but when they googled the distance from where they were, it turned out to be 750 KM! Needless to say, they didn’t make the diversion. Texas is huge!

Apparently some of the team organising the 300 year celebrations on the island at the moment are already doing some research. That’s how to plan a party !

You might wonder whether a twinning with a town so far away remains important to Lanzarote after 300 years.

Well I can tell you that people were queuing in the streets of Teguise on a November evening to attend the official launch of a new book, entitled Estadoundidsenes Con Pasado Lanzaroteño, written by Jose Juan Romero Cruz.

We, who in fact are relative newcomers from the UK (having been here only eight years) had in fact been notified of the event and invited to attend by a familiar name to these pages, the afore-mentioned Larry Yaskiel. He is a friend of the pages I write, and my wife and I are proud to consider the honorary editor of the Lancelot quarterly magazine, and his always smiling wife Liz, as friends. We have always been impressed by how they ensure the Lancelot magazine continues to share the culture and history of Lanzarote with tourists from all over the world and with those, like Dee and I, who eventually settle on the island.

In the days in Ye Olde England when newspapers were delivered through letter boxes rather than into e-mail downloads, our local paper was The Manchester Evening News and it had the advertising strap line of being ´a friend dropping in´, conjuring connotations of neighbourliness. I´ve come to think of Lancelot in the same way, if rather more as a friend on the supermarket shelves waiting to be picked up! The magazine carries a tone that echoes Larry himself as scholarly and knowledgeable but who shares that knowledge with wit and empathy, and even as he tells us all he can, his voice is laced with his own desire to keep on learning even more about Lanzarote and its people.

The Spanish government and its people have taken Larry and his wife and guiding light, Liz, so much to their hearts that they queue in the streets to attend events that he recommends or is involved in. So grateful to him are Great Britain that he was recently awarded an MBE, and it was at his investiture celebration here on Lanzarote that we first met Juan, the author. We learned from him in light conversation that he was writing a book to which Larry was being a great help. We learned from Larry himself that he was just as proud to be of help as he had been when writing his own books.

Tonight, we had a few minutes exploring this tiny library of the kind that the UK has mercilessly swept aside. It was stacked floor to ceiling with portentous looking tomes, and its history was tangible. There was something Dickensian about it, I think, and we loved it, and will be back soon to explore it more thoroughly.

For now, though, it was time to take the last two seats in a room that was full to overflowing into the corridors outside.

 

The dignitaries seated at the top table were (left to right), Counselor for Historical Heritage, Mar Boronat, beside Steve Chiscano, Counselor Nareida Gonzalez, Freddie Bustillo, and then Larry Yaskiel and author Jose Juan Romero.

The author and his special guests, including Larry, all sat at the top table, and passed the desk-top microphone down the line as they each spoke about the book, reflecting on the history with the island´s links, through migratory paths of exploration, to San Antonio, Texas and other places around the world.

I haven’t yet read the book because it is in Spanish, so I might have to wait for it to become audible as a talking book in English language. However, I spoke with Juan immediately after he had finished signing my copy of the book that had just been given free to everyone in attendance, that means a lot of copies! I know that Juan is a lover of, and has encyclopaedic knowledge of British rock music and asked him whether his research of these migratory patterns revealed whether the music followed the same routes.

Of course, that is covered in what looks to be a book that will enhance school and university and public libraries and household bookshelves, too, and will prove an important reference source for decades to come.

To put this in context for UK readers, this is a book about which I am pretty certain would earn the approval of our arts and local historian contributor Michael Higgins.

Larry and his fellow dignitaries and the author himself were all friendly and gracious as so many people crowded them at the end to ask further questions and seek signatures.

It highlighted another Lanzaroteño trait, of seeing history, landscape, climate, geography, art and literature as a holistic attitude.

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