Written by Teresa Palomo Acosta
Read by Susan Castle
Spanish-speaking theatre in Texas has a long history that started with religious dramas produced by missionary priests. By the 19th Century, theatrical companies had become a cohesive force among Mexicans and Tejanos and provided a wide range of entertainment for diverse audiences, including children. The Compañía Hernández, founded in Mexico, was one of the major professional Spanish-language theatrical companies in Texas from about 1850 to 1920, and Antonia Piñeda Hernández was its leading actress.
Born in 1831, Antonia Piñeda married the company’s founder when she was 18 and learned the theater from him. She was best-known for romantic tragedy and melodramas but was versed in numerous repertories, including operettas and zarzuelas, or musical comedies. Like other Spanish-language companies, hers toured in Northern Mexico and South Texas, and it was family-based. Her two daughters and one son also became actors.
Piñeda Hernández took over management of the company in 1888, after her husband died. She oversaw business arrangements and rehearsals, and was known for ensuring the quality of her company’s repertoire, which totaled more than 100 plays. She was a meticulous director, and the company gained a reputation for outstanding work.
She handed management to Carlos Villalongín, her son-in-law, in 1904, but continued to perform until about 1917, when, at age 86, she appeared for a benefit at Beethoven Hall in San Antonio. She died in 1927.
Ramírez, Elizabeth C. Footlights Across the Border, A History of Spanish-language Professional Theatre on the Texas Stage. New York: Peter Lang, 1990.
Ruíz, Vicki and Virginia Sánchez Korrol. Latinas in the United States, A Historical Encyclopedia, Vol. 1. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006.
Audio Source Information
Our project, "Texas Women's History Moments," received the 2012 National Council on Public History Outstanding Public History Award and the American Association for State and Local History Leadership in History Award. The audio clips were broadcast on KUT radio from 2011-2016 during Women’s History Month.