SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's administration on Friday nominated The Alamo and the four other San Antonio Franciscan missions as a United Nations World Heritage Site.
"The missions represent an important, and often overlooked, chapter of our nation's history," Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said, standing before the stone towers of Mission Concepcion, along the San Antonio River just south of downtown. "It is important that visitors from around the world know and celebrate the contributions of Latinos to the fabric of America, and these missions help tell that story in a very real way."
The Alamo, where a famous battle was fought between Texan irregulars and the Mexican Army in 1836, is the best known of five Franciscan missions constructed along the San Antonio River in the early 18th century to spread Christianity to the Native Americans in the region. The other four - Mission Concepcion, Mission San Jose, Mission Espada and Mission San Juan - are still used as parish churches.
"Certainly one of the things that the missions have in their favor is that they are still serving the same function today as they did 300 years ago," said San Antonio historian Eric Fultz, who is pushing for World Heritage status for the missions.
Fultz says World Historic Site designation would be a major boost for the region's tourism industry.
"A lot of people around the world plan their travel itinerary around solely World Heritage Site visits," he said.
The missions are already on the National Register of Historic Places.
Fewer than 4 percent of places in the register commemorate the contributions of women, African Americans, Asian Americans or Latinos, Salazar said.
"That tells you that our history has not been told in the way it needs to be told," he said.
With 54 million Latinos now living in the United States, it is "important that story be told," he said.
The nomination will go to the World Heritage Committee and from there to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which selects sites for the list, largely on the basis of their role in the development of human civilization.
The San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, which is operated by the National Park Service, attracts more than 1.6 million visitors per year, Salazar said.
A decision on adding the missions to the World Heritage Site list is expected in 2014.
If selected, the missions would be the first such site in Texas and the 21st in the United States.
Editing by Corrie MacLaggan, Greg McCune and James Dalgleish