From the 1860s until the late 1930s, one of the primary amusements of both visitors and locals was the food and entertainment offered in the plazas of San Antonio by the Chili Queens.
These women served chili con carne and other Mexican American delicacies from dusk until dawn at various San Antonio plazas over the years — setting up tables and benches and bringing pots of food to cook or reheat over their flickering mesquite fires and to serve by the light of their oil lanterns. As morning came, their families helped them cart everything away. Wandering musicians and singers provided a festive air to the unique proceedings—unique, that is, outside Mexico. In Mexico, the open-air plaza restaurants were not celebrated for their charming food-servers. Only San Antonio had Chili Queens—and while they liked to joke, banter, and flirt with customers, they were well chaperoned by family members who guarded their virtue.
At first, only a few women — such as Sadie and Martha, sometimes pictured in old books about San Antonio — were called Chili Queens. Sadie was called “Anglo-Celtic;” Martha was Hispanic. Eventually, the royal title was applied to all the women—most of them young and virtually all of them Hispanic. Continue reading