I was just re-appointed to serve on the San Antonio Arts Commission representing district 3 on the southside of town. We don’t get much public art here. We get car lots and mobile phone shops. Now with the Missions’ World Heritage designation, the city is working to beautify the immediate area that leads tourist from downtown to the Mission Reach. There are wonderful murals going up, most, if not all, with natural environments and indigenous symbols. This is work we can all be proud of. We have selected local artists and some that participated in the Public Art mentorship program. The selected artists have met with community members and the American Indians in Texas to gather feedback and history of the location where their work appears. The results have been wonderful. We have community involvement and buy-in. The Department of Arts and Culture has organized and led these community meetings here and across the city.
My hope is that we can continue this work down Military Drive where there is just sign after sign for all kinds of businesses but nothing cultural or artistic to point to and be proud of. Our Chuck E Cheese was upgraded. Yeah wow. Another strip mall has been added. How many shops does Cricket Wireless need anyway? Used car lots and fast food pepper the strip which I now drive daily to get my daughter to her new school over by Brooks City Base. This area has been upgraded with chain restaurants, major shops, a movie theater and now I see a batting cage. It’s promising but I would like to see more work further west where I live by I35. The mall has been struggling but they are currently tearing up the flooring throughout. Some stores close and others open. I’m still mad that Luby’s is gone. I am not a fan of the food court. Yes, I like Ulta but I much rather have the ice cart pass by my booth repeatedly so I can recharge and continue shopping.
Great things are on the horizon for the southside thanks to Councilwoman Viagran. I am excited about the newly elected city council. Ana Sandoval has proven to be a firecracker and Roberto Treviño along with William Cruz Shaw put their lives on the line to get rid of the confederate monument in Travis Park. I doubt any museum will want that but we shall see where it lands. Councilman Brockhouse has requested more cultural outreach to his district 6 which sounds good to me.
If I had a wish list, and I do, it is to add more variety of cultural and culinary opportunities to the southside. We need a cultural center to put on live music and plays, a place where kids can paint or play with musical instruments. We also need a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Even better, how about an urban farm collaborative. We have so much wisdom in our neighborhood. Our elders come from a time and place where they grew corn and raised chickens in their back yards. They walked out to the garden and plucked a few leaves to make a tea to cure what ails them. We need to re-learn this knowledge. All we need is the space and leadership to do it.
Featured Image: Mural of pecans and mountain lions by Cristina Sosa Noriega. Image courtesy of Rivard Report
This question has been asked of me for a very long time. The tone has varied and my answer depends on that tone. When I moved to Los Angeles to go to college everyone was from somewhere. Even if they were from LA, they were from different parts of the county or Southern California. Every neighborhood has its identity so the question was asked out of curiosity to see where your perspective on life comes from. It was a good conversation starter although I did get the silly question “Do you ride horses there?” as in instead of a car. I also got questioned on my use of “y’all” until Nelly made it cool. On our visits to Mexico with the family, it wasn’t “where are you from” but rather they knew where you were from. “Ohh, la Tejana.” It bothered me slightly having spent my first two years of life there including holidays and summers for 18 years. My Spanish accent matched theirs. It was my parent’s and grandparent’s home. I felt at home.
When I moved back to San Antonio over 4 years ago, where you are from became a big deal. I was recruited to return by former LA colleagues but when I was introduced in a business setting it was always with the caveat that I was from here. I had the experience of working in LA but I was a local girl. Sometimes, I was introduced by where I was born just to emphasize as much as possible that I was from here. This was usually followed by “what city do you like better?” and you better say San Antonio. My response was always that I love both cities and that’s the truth. In social settings, I had one girl a bit obsessed by my stint in LA. “Oh, I heard you said you were from LA, well everyone is moving here because there is NO water in LA.” blah blah blah. I was just trying to grab a drink with new friends but this one was about to get some LA attitude with her rantings about how “everyone” was leaving California to come HERE, on this very spot, on the dirt she stood on. I mean evvveeerrrryyyyone! Constantly discounting that I was from here and there IS water in LA or else everyone would have died already. This chick . . . I swear.
On another occasion, I was asked by a prominent board member if I caught the Spurs game the night before. I casually said no which was followed by a huge dramatic gasp, “Yadeeeeerrra, what do you mean you don’t watch the Spurs????” Under my breath I muttered that I had better things to do with 4 hours of my life that evening. Identity is a huge deal here that finally I decided to respond that I am a proud southsider and raise chickens in my backyard and my alarm clock is my rooster named Pedro. That usually tops any argument about my loyalty to this city. Don’t call yourself a southsider if you don’t live south of I90. South Town does not count. I wonder if being from anywhere else is a threat to people here or is it that as Texans in general, civic pride is instilled in us at a very young age. I believe having the Spurs franchise reinforces this. I don’t hate the team or the sport. I grew up watching and attended one game (because we were poor and my dad was more into baseball). But I don’t feel I have to pledge allegiance to the players or purchase every team logo knockoff t-shirt and fiesta medal. This lady could have offered me one of her floor season tickets and I would have gladly accepted.
One day, my daughter came home with a note from school that the next day was College t-shirt day. I searched through my closet and couldn’t find any from my old school. They don’t sell them here so I had to run to the pulga to get one printed on the fly. Guess how many kids had on college t-shirts that day? I just saw one, my kid. But every other day there are tons of kids with Spurs gear from head to toe. The whole 6 flags over Texas history is also a point of pride that is taught in school and the Texas pledge is recited right after the Pledge of Allegiance.
At this point this issue with identity is frustrating. It’s a constant subject in so many aspects of life. It’s an unnecessary competition. I’ve always said I am a citizen of the world. I still believe in that philosophy. That doesn’t mean you give up your identity or that you don’t have a culture. I am who I am because the places I have lived have contributed to who I am today. I have 3 places I call home. So what?
Most recently, (this week) my daughter mentioned that she didn’t know Spanish (she does, it’s not perfect) and this random lady copped a nasty attitude on her saying “Oh no girlfriend, this is San Antonio, you live here now and you need to learn.” followed by fake laughter. The hair on the back of my neck rose and I started some labored breathing. The physical reaction told me I had to fire back. I hate confrontation especially when I am not expecting it. So I tap this chick on the shoulder and told her I was offended by what she said. She didn’t know my kid at all. How did she assume she wasn’t from here? Who made her the authority to tell my kid she had to learn Spanish? I saw my kid react to that attitude thrown at her and I could tell it hurt even though she laughed it off. How dare she? A grown woman attack a kid like that? She didn’t even apologize. Just told me how she was a mom too. I don’t need anyone making my kid feel like she does not belong here. I can handle this issue being thrown at me but don’t do it to my kid. She too is a citizen of the world. She carries it all in her DNA, in her curly hair, in her golden brown skin and her Latina attitude and confidence.
I will never apologize for leaving San Antonio for Los Angeles. The hundred reasons I had for leaving are all mine. There’s a saying that goes “ni de aqui, ni de alla” to describe the Mexican-American experience, however, I beg to differ. I am from here. I am from there. I belong. Where I am, that is home. This isn’t a commune and I don’t need a membership to return or anyone’s approval to be here or leave. I am here now, I eat mangonadas and pass on the flour tortillas, but occasionally I’ll have barbacoa, and because it matters so much, I am San Anto. Deal with it.
My letter in defense of public art went into record and was read out loud by City Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran at today’s city council meeting.
March 9, 2017
Dear Mayor Taylor and City Councilmembers,
I am your district 3 representative on the City of San Antonio’s Art Commission and member of the Public Art committee. My lifelong love of the arts began as a child in public school on the city’s southside. My childhood was a celebration of the culture and heritage of our shared identity as a city. I was taught that we have a rich history and deep roots as our celebrations were held on the grounds of the San Jose Mission, at Our Part of Town talent shows, the Arneson River Theater, Fiesta stages and parades and community centers. Our sense of identity is strong.
As I reflect on the past 20+ years of working in the arts in Los Angeles and San Antonio, I find that there is no city like ours. My work for over a decade involved a specific focus on the American West. The region’s history, geography, and opportunities have made it into a land of hope, wonder, and inspiration. We must take a larger view of where we stand in this time and place and realize that San Antonio’s unique character is due to its cultural identity. This is where the cattle drives crossed up to Chicago to take the railroad east and west. This is where battles were fought. Where immigrants arrived to live off the rich land. German, Irish, Spanish, Mexican and Native American traditions and work ethics made us who we are today.
The arts are what keep these traditions and identities alive. We celebrate our independent spirit of the West through our dances, folk music, and poetry. Our celebrations are confined to dates and times so that many of the visitors we have to our great city may not be able to immerse themselves in our annual celebrations, however, the one art form that is available to all who come is public art. It doesn’t have operating hours nor does it turn anyone away. It is our loyal ambassador. It invites people in to observe it, contemplate it, love it or hate it. It evokes emotion and inspires.
What would San Antonio look like without the Westside murals, the Torch of Friendship, a sculpture in a garden? Remove all of the WPA-era tile murals along the Riverwalk and what are we left with to tell the tales? All of these works of art are subjects of discussion and photography. These lasting images are sent across the country and the world, and express who we are as a city with their mere presence.
As a member of the Art Commission, I am dedicated to preserve our cultural heritage and dare to say San Antonio is THE home of the American West. That spirit lives on today and what an amazing message we send to the world through our public art. We are committed to commissioning the best works of art by the best artists. We ensure that selected artists understand the cultural fabric of our city and are training local artists to rise to the call of public art so that we produce the best storytellers via this very public medium. I urge you to support the work of the Department of Arts and Culture because without it, we lose all that we have worked for, we lose our very own identity.
Arts advocate & mother
image: Westside mural on Commerce Street just across the bridge from downtown.
I’ve spent the past 20+ years in galleries, corporate offices, backstage, studios, outdoor parks and indoor stadiums living an artful life and now it has come full circle. My love of art, and music specifically, began with my parent’s beige-yellow 4-foot wide console that took it’s place of importance next to our color tv with dial channel changer. The record collection we had might have been small but I loved to open that top and insert my favorite Juan Gabriel album and sing my heart out in the living room. My brother and I eventually learned an instrument or two and wound up playing in the school mariachi. As I got older, I got good grades, received ribbons for whatever singing, poetry and dance competition we had and eventually made it into the high school honor society. I don’t mean to brag but it is relevant to this story because you know those grade-school achievements don’t really matter in your 40s.
Part of being a member of this exclusive high achiever club was a required amount of volunteer hours. My cousin worked in a nursing home and she often paraded me around in whatever adorable costume I had on for that year’s school play so it was an atmosphere I felt somewhat comfortable in. I decided to volunteer at a nursing home near my house but after a series of interesting experiences including an escapee, a few wardrobe malfunctions and the overall sadness of the place I decided to look elsewhere to fulfill my requirement.
I decided to call up the local Mexican cultural center and see what I could do. I was familiar with the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center having taken a couple of their singing classes, attended a play or two, and eventually performed on the history theater stage for various recitals. Right around the time I called, they were gearing up for the annual Conjunto Festival. So on a beautiful sunny day, I arrived at Rosedale Park to volunteer for the event. The man in charge was Juan Tejeda. He greeted me and took off on a high-speed tour of the grounds pointing out the booths, stage, and the shiny new accordions set to be raffled that weekend. I can’t tell you what I wound up doing that day but it was my first time working behind the scenes of a cultural event instead of performing at one.
That was 199_? We’ve come a long way baby! It is now 2017. Juan retired last year from the festival as well as his teaching career and has passed the torch to the Guadalupe’s new director, Cristina Ballí. Running this large organization takes up quite a bit of time so Cristina reached out to me to join the festival planning team. I’m back to where it all started! Working logistics and PR this time with the years of experience, knowledge, and passion for music, this particular festival, and the growing arts scene in San Antonio. It’s an exciting time to be in town. The city is growing and creating its artistic identity as we speak. It is combining the historic with the contemporary and finding the right balance of both. Working the 36th Annual Tejano Conjunto Festival is an honor and a way to keep the tradition going. As we move forward in life and career, I am glad that I can always come back home and continue the work that was started and kept alive by dedicated folks like Juan and the Guadalupe staff and volunteers.
Image: Conjunto Dancers by Al Rendon