The Spanish influence at all levels of contemporary Texas is considerable, perhaps out of proportion to the numbers of Spaniards (those who came directly from Spain) who ever set foot in the territory we now call Texas.  Hundreds of place names for cities, counties, parks, islands, rivers, and geological formations carry Spanish names. Less visible, but perhaps more important, Spanish law governing things like family relations and the disposition of land and water infuses current Texas law.
Culturally, the original Spanish influence was more limited. It is crucial that we distinguish between the original Spanish influences and the influences of the rapidly growing Mexican and Mexican American populations in the state. Here we focus exclusively on the influence of the original Spanish explorers, soldiers and settlers, whose presence was much more limited, tentative and sporadic.
Although the Spanish began exploring Texas in the early 1500s, they were able to exercise continuous occupation of the territory for barely more than a century between 1716 and 1821.  Their political, social and economic projects in the territory were fairly limited, focusing mainly on establishing isolated missions aimed mostly at converting the Native Americans to Christianity and to a more settled, town-based form of social organization. The missions were also intended as means of halting French encroachment from the Louisiana territory by establishing Spanish control over remote areas.
Spanish activity in the area was motivated by two powerful forces deeply rooted in Spain's history and social structure: spreading Christianity and acquiring wealth. Unfortunately, Texas offered precious little opportunity for either activity - at least compared to other areas of the New World with large and powerful indigenous civilizations, like central Mexico and the Andean highlands. As a result the Spanish colonial presence in the territory was relatively sparse. By 1821, the year of Mexican independence from Spain, very few Spaniards or descendents of Spaniards (estimated at about 5,000 people) lived in the territory of Texas. Spanish culture in what became the state of Texas would be based primarily on - and filtered through - Mexican culture, a very distinct and dynamic cultural tradition that derived only partly from Spanish culture.
Many of those descended from Spaniards were mestizo or mixed blood. Because relatively few Spanish women came to the Americas, Spanish males commonly mixed with indigenous females. The process of mestization was such a prominent component of Spanish-descent population growth that by 1821, the pivotal year in which Mexico won its independence from Spain, the mestizo population in Mexico had become almost as large as both the indigenous and Iberian-born populations combined. Today the vast majority of Mexicans are mestizo.
Despite the few Mexican Americans in Texas in the early 1800s, their number grew steadily over the rest of the century. The U.S census in 1850 counted more than 14,000 people of Mexican origin in Texas. Wars, civil unrest and the search for economic opportunity pushed increasing numbers of Mexicans into Texas in succeeding decades. By 1930 the Mexican-origin population totaled several hundred thousand. Historical events like World War II and economic factors caused the continued migration of Mexicans to Texas and beyond. Additionally, the fertility rates of Mexican Americans have remained high to the present day, further contributing to the rapid growth of this population. See Section 5 of this chapter for more detailed discussion of the contemporary Mexican American population.
2 Handbook of Texas Online, link: "SPANISH TEXAS," (accessed Feb 10, 2006).
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