The founders of San Antonio escaped islands in distress, and now those same islands face volcanic danger.


Legend has it that the drought and famine that the Canaries endured in the early 18th century foreshadowed a shocking event. These difficulties forced them to emigrate to the Spanish colony of Texas. Five months later, a volcano on the islands exploded and the crisis lasted almost six years.

Once again, the Canaries are facing an extreme eruption event. For more than a month, the Cumbre Vieja volcano has spat ash and released lava on the island of La Palma. It is one of the eight Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago that begins 62 miles west of Morocco in the Atlantic Ocean.

So far the lava has covered 1,833 acres of land and destroyed nearly 2,000 buildings. This number will only continue to rise as scientists believe there is no end in sight. There are no known casualties and around 7,000 people have been evacuated. Besides the lava flow, air quality remains a major concern. Scientists recommend that residents of neighborhoods closest to the eruption stay indoors and preferably wear masks.

The Canary Islands Descendants Association (CIDA), based in San Antonio, wants to help those affected by this rash, and has launched a fundraising campaign.

For CIDA members, this destruction is personal. Mari Tamez, who was president of CIDA for six years until January 2020, reminded San Antonians of this connection between the two communities.

“We are just reaching out to help our ancestors, and we know these are tough times, but there is history that binds us,” Tamez said.

Sure, humans have created colonies around the sources of the region for millennia, but the village founded by the Canaries would directly germinate the modern city of San Antonio. When they arrived here there was already a Spanish presidio, which was a colonial military fort, and a mission, now called the Alamo. But they were responsible for ultimately creating a settlement for Spanish civilians.

To take a tour of the city center is to see the footprints of these emigrants all over the foundation of the city. The original name of Main Plaza was Las Islas Square, a reference in Spanish to the Canary Islands where these settlers came from.

Between this square and the presidio, San Antonio de Béxar, they set up the gate of their village. They called their new town San Fernando de Béxar. Here they built a church, the original structure enlarged to become what is now the Cathedral of San Fernando. They even had the irrigation ditches emanating from San Pedro Springs, the acequias, extended in their new colony.

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This figure of Our Lady of Candelaria, the patroness of the Canary Islands, can be found in the original part of the Cathedral of San Fernando. A nearby plaque reads: “Donated in 1984 by the city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands, in memory of 56 immigrants from the Canary Islands who came to San Antonio in 1731 and founded San Fernando.

The current president of the Canary Islands Descendants Association, Freddie T. Bustillo, encourages San Antonians to recognize the depth of this history.

“So many people think there was nothing here before the Alamo,” he explained, referring to the battle that took place in 1836, more than 100 years after the arrival of the Canaries. . “Well, we were here long before that, and we want to tell our story because it’s important.”

For example, he noted that the Canaries established a civilian government, something that did not yet exist for Texas settlers of European descent. Shortly after their arrival in 1731, they formed a cabildo, or the city council, and were governed by alcade, or something equivalent to the combination of mayor, judge, and sheriff.

Bustillo also urges people to recognize the connection with their own genealogy.

“I couldn’t even put a figure, but there are thousands and thousands of people who are relatives (here of the 56 original people who left the Canary Islands),” he said. .

Bustillo can personally trace his lineage back several generations, as this knowledge has been passed down through his family.

Tamez also grew up hearing of this ancestry. She said her grandmother regularly expressed her pride in this regard, especially since her great-grandmother was chronicled in the book. With the creators of San Antonio by Frédéric Chabot.

Not all descendants grew up hearing about this lineage; some discovered it later. Julia Lopez from Austin discovered her connection to the Canary Islands 12 years ago through a cousin. Since then, she has deepened her research on her ancestors, visiting the Bexar Archives at the Briscoe Center of American History at the University of Texas at Austin.

She is particularly proud to be the direct descendant of three orphans who made the trip, first on the ocean and then on land. Having lost their parents along the way, they walked with the group to San Antonio from the port of Veracruz, Mexico. She recognizes the resilience that allowed them to endure such an arduous journey, or “stubbornness” as she called it, as a family trait.

“You can’t help but fall in love with this story, especially the story of three kids who mostly traveled through Mexico and then made their way to San Antonio,” Lopez said.

These two women made the pilgrimage to the Canary Islands in order to connect with an ancestral homeland. They speak of a place of austere oceanic beauty, warm souls and tangible links with the past.

While visiting Lopez, his encounter with a cronist, or city historian, on the island of Lanzarote has proved particularly striking. Initially mistaken for a hunter since he offered to carry their luggage, he guided Lopez and his family to places on the island where they could connect directly with their loved ones. One of the highlights of his visit was the church where his direct descendants received a final blessing just before embarking on a new life.

Speaking of that moment, Lopez said, “To tell you it was emotional is an understatement.”

A current inhabitant of San Antonio knows the volcanic nature of the island of La Palma intimately. Dr. Chris Packham, professor of astrophysics at the University of Texas at San Antonio, spent four years on the island doing research at the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes. Parked 2.5 km at the top of a mountain, Packham went to the telescopes every working day. Along the hour-long journey he witnessed a dramatic change in scenery.

“When you drive from sea level you see a kind of steep coast that has been eroded by the ocean waves hitting it. And you get a stand of palm trees, ”he explained. Beyond that, a passenger travels through very dry environments, pine forest, and even rainforest in one trip.

Perhaps even more remarkable than his fear for the scenery was his affection for the “absolutely wonderful” inhabitants of the island. His sense of belonging to this “tight-knit” community in which “everyone knows everyone” makes it even more difficult for him to witness the loss of livelihood and property.

He explained that the scientific community is mainly stationed on the other side of the island and is currently not threatened by the eruption. Even still, he noted that a sense of “solidarity” currently permeates the entire island, no matter which side.

How to donate through CIDA:

There is a PayPal account set up for online donations on this link.

People can also donate by personal or bank check or money order. These should be made payable to the Association of Descendants of the Canary Islands with “La Palma Volcano Donation” in the memo line. Then mailed to this address: Canary Island Descendants Association, PO Box 12618, San Antonio, TX 78212.

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