Around 12% (or 295,300 people) of the San Antonio population are immigrants. Located near the US/Mexico border, the city has been a beacon of hope to immigrants from around the world since the early 19th century. These vibrant communities have contributed not only billions of dollars to the local economy (currently around 30% of San Antonio business owners are immigrants who contribute hundreds of millions to Social Security and Medicare), but also create an inclusive culture determined to create stable, dignified lives for their families and community.
For 50 years, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) has supported organizations across the U.S. as they address the root causes of poverty and empower immigrants seeking to thrive in their new communities. Here we highlight some of our partner organizations who have gone above and beyond to uphold Catholic values of loving your neighbor and doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.
San Antonio: A 300-Year-Old Thoroughfare
When you think of immigration in San Antonio, what's the first thing that comes to mind? Probably long, arduous, and often dangerous, journeys from Mexico and South/Central America. But San Antonio as a city, and the land it was founded upon, has a long, complex, and rich history of eclectic heritages coming together to influence what it is today -- native communities, Spanish colonizers, Black slaves, immigrants from the U.S., and eventually, European and Chinese refugees were all a part of the city’s history.
Once Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, the Mexican government encouraged immigration from the neighboring U.S., bringing about a massive population influx from their northern neighbors. By 1834, over 30,000 Anglos lived in Texas, compared to 7,800 Mexicans. This, in turn, prompted the Mexican government to restrict border crossings and enforce cultural laws that abolished slavery and required new immigrants to convert to Catholicism. "The enforcement of those laws contributed to residents of Texas, including the settlers from the U.S. and Tejanos, revolting and creating the Republic of Texas in 1836."
Eventually, Texas joined the United States in 1845. Around this time, the port of Galveston became a well-trafficked entry point into the country for immigrants fleeing Europe. Immigrants from Germany and eastern Europe flooded the area and brought with them their cultures, the influences from which are still observed today:
"Many Czech and Polish immigrants arrived, but the most famous were the Germans, whose beer halls are still found around town and who helped create an iconic form of music. . .conjunto. It’s what happens when Europeans bring their instruments -- you hear the accordion, the polka sounds, and it merges with traditional Mexican music.”
In the latter half of the 19th century, an influx of Lebanese immigrants came to southern Texas, whose descendants formed highly influential businesses, many of which still exist. Then, in the early 1900s the tables turned: Mexicans and Chinese who had settled in Mexico started fleeing an oppressive government regime to the U.S. once stirrings of the Mexican Revolution began. All of these different cultural influences are still readily apparent in San Antonio today.
Today, immigration has remained an important issue in the U.S., and our task to welcome, accompany and empower our brothers and sisters is more important than ever. But San Antonio's extensive history as an immigration thoroughfare not just for the Americas, but for Asian and European countries alike, is an important reminder of not only recognizing how a thriving multicultural epicenter came to be but where it will go in the future.
Immigration Accompaniment Organizations in San Antonio
- COPS/Metro: Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS) & the Metro Alliance is a coalition of congregations, schools, and unions that helps local San Antonio families. Nearly 1 in 3 children in San Antonio is growing up in poverty, which has inspired COPS/Metro to launch campaigns that help raise wages, provide assistance in accessing quality healthcare, and advocate for reforms to immigration policy. Among their many successful initiatives are the After-School Challenge Program, Education Partnership, Project QUEST, and various living wage and infrastructure improvements for underfunded communities.
- I/CAN: The Interfaith Community Action Network (I/CAN) is an institutional membership-based organization that works tirelessly to fight for a $15/hr minimum wage (including for farm and guest workers), in addition to providing pathways to legal residency and Parish IDs for undocumented people. They also, "identify, develop and engage leaders and potential leaders through reflection, action and evaluation, creating a city-wide constituency engaged in community issues."
- West/Southwest IAF: While the organization is not located in San Antonio, the West/Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation developed a program called Recognizing the Stranger, which was implemented in parishes throughout the San Antonio area. It is a multi-year program that works with local parishes to identify, train, and mentor immigrant leaders to build connections among themselves and with nonimmigrant allies in their parishes and the broader community. With support from CCHD, the strategy has expanded from 7 to 19 dioceses across the West and Southwest US.
Take Action in Your Community
Help us amplify the work of CCHD-supported groups working to bring dignified lives to every immigrant in San Antonio and beyond by sharing this article on social media. Be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook or view our 50th Anniversary page for more information about how you can join the work to break the cycle of poverty in your city.
About Poverty USA
Poverty USA is an initiative of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) and was created as an educational resource to help individuals and communities to address poverty in America by confronting the root causes of economic injustice—and promoting policies that help to break the cycle of poverty.
The domestic anti-poverty program of the U.S. Catholic bishops, CCHD helps low-income people participate in decisions that affect their lives, families, and communities—and nurtures solidarity between people living in poverty and their neighbors.
Missed Out on the Annual National Collection? No Problem.
You can help break the cycle of poverty by supporting the Catholic Campaign for Human Development collection in your parish. If you miss the collection, or your (arch)diocese does not participate, you can still send your donation to:
Catholic Campaign for Human Development
USCCB Office of National Collections
P. O. Box 96278
Washington DC 20090-6278
Make your check or money order payable to: "Catholic Campaign for Human Development."
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