Since my summer vacation has been a ‘staycation’ thanks to Covid-19 (and all the Texans who couldn’t be bothered to do the oh-so-difficult task of wearing a face mask in public), I went local for my vacation reading. And yes, you’re allowed to feel sad for me when you realize my ‘vacation’ reading is basically my ‘always’ reading: Religious Studies. I read Thomas S. Bremer’s Blessed with Tourists which may sound like a book only a local could enjoy but it’s much deeper that just a local history. Blessed with Tourists is a fascinating exploration of the intersection between religion—especially pilgrimage—and tourism and how there’s a very thin line between the two.
The book is definitely filled with local history. For people interested in the history of Texas, broadly speaking, or San Antonio, more specifically, Bremer provides an overview throughout. Chapter 1, ‘Destination San Antonio’ and Chapter 2, ‘Alamo City’, provide the reader with a brief history of the Indigenous people of south Texas and the colonial Spain as well as the emergence of Mexico and the ever southward creeping United States.
Chapter 3, ‘Preserving Precious Heritage’ introduces the readers to the major players and events that prevented the Missions from falling into complete disrepair. ‘Chapter 4, ‘Religion at the Fair’ narrates the role of the 1968 world’s fair ‘Hemisfair ’68’ that really put San Antonio (back) on the map, revitalizing tourism and the city’s economy, while contributing to the eventual sustaining of the Missions. As someone who has participated in the Interfaith community of modern San Antonio, it’s also fun to read about older forms of Interfaith cooperation in this city.
Chapter 5, ‘Inside the National Park’ examines the tricky ‘church-state’ relationship as the Roman Catholic Church and the National Park Service have had to work together to preserve what is not only ecclesial history but local south Texan history. Who is responsible for what? When does state care for the park risk supporting Christianity? These are important questions that this chapter addresses.
The short conclusion ‘Reburying the Past’ looks at the controversy around the digging up of the bones of Native Americans buried near Mission San Juan and how those bones were restored. These final words remind us that San Antonio is an intersection of cultures: Anglo and Latinx, Indigenous and Spanish, to name a couple.
If you’re interested in San Antonio’s history, or Texas’, this book is an important one. But this book is also relevant for thinking about cities like Rome, Mexico City, or Mecca, where pilgrimage and tourism mix.