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Institute of Texan Cultures

From Native Indian to Mexican, Japanese to Pole, the vibrant cultural hotchpotch of Texan culture is joyously bought to life here.

Texas isn't just the biggest, and second most populous, state in the mainland US. It's also one of the most culturally diverse, with a many-storied – and a many-flagged – history. 'Six Flags over Texas' is the slogan Texans use to describe that rich history, which has seen the flags of Spain, France, Mexico, the Confederacy, the USA – and of course the Texan Republic – fly over this proud state. The Institute of Texan Cultures, in San Antonio, is where that ethnic and racial diversity is put on show, and celebrated.

The Lone State's surprisingly star-spangled cultural banner starts with the native Indian tribes, and expands to include the first French and Spanish settlers, the Tejanos (from its time as part of Mexico), and the many black and European settlers that came here in the early 1830s (when Texas was briefly an independent state). San Antonio itself is home to many Poles, Germans and Czechs, who settled in the woods of the Texas Hill Country. Many Chinese, Japanese and Filipinos have arrived here in more recent decades.

The idea for the Institute started with a 1968 Fair to exhibit Texan history and to promote its cultural diversity. The current building now has around 16,900-square-metres of exhibit space, and covers the twenty seven cultures that have settled in Texas, through the ages. It does this through displays of historical objects and documents, presentations of audio and visual material, and especially through lively community events, organised throughout the year.

These include festivities – like the Asian Festival and the Mexican Day of the Dead – and living history activities such as 'Spring Break on the Back 40' and 'Texas Trails and Tales'. The Institute itself hosts living history displays all-year around. You can get a real feel for the varied life of 19th century Texans, with a settler's log house and barn, an army fort barracks, a tiny one-room schoolhouse, and an Indian adobe house – all populated by peoples from that time.

Perhaps the best time to catch Texas culture in its full spectrum of vivid colour is at the Texas Folklife Festival. Held over three days in summer, the festivities include Lebanese folk-dancers, Ballet Folklorico from local Tejanos, Chinese Dragons and troupes of Polish dancers.


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