Sunday, September 29, 2013

Street Life: Issue #1

Location: North Central Downtown
  • This segment will highlight a specific area of San Antonio through photographs, history, and intrigue. Armed with a Nikon digital camera, I'll be roaming the streets in search of a story, in search of defining characteristics of a community.
Earlier this month, I made a trek to the north central sector of downtown after scattered rainshowers had subsided. I started out at Martin and Navarro, stopping by the remodeled Hotel Havana and Ocho Lounge, making my way west to check out the ongoing community garden project - Little Patch Garden. On my journey I encountered an herb spiral, tourists, and patrons from the notorious Gloria's Lounge on N. Flores st.

 -Hotel Havana-
-this photo reminds of me walking the streets of Philadelphia in the fall-
 -vacant lots are all too common in downtown SA, this one is for rent-

-Little Patch Garden: 405 N Main Ave-
 -Herb spiral-
  •  While perusing the garden, a slim, older man flagged me down, "joven...oyes...joven". His name is Lazaro, a Spanish variant of the Hebrew "Lazarus", though everyone calls him Lazarito - a common suffix added as a term of endearment in latin-american culture.
Our conversation proceeded entirely in Spanish.
  • A patron of Gloria's Lounge, he was well into his fourth beer at 3pm and decided for a walk around the block. Hailing from Cuba, he traveled the world before settling down in SA in the 1980s. He spotted me observing the root he stands next to in this photo. He told me that these were common throughout Cuba and began to tell a story of encountering them in his childhood.
  • He asked me if I was familiar with the neighborhood, his neighborhood stretching a few blocks on Flores st. I told him that I have been living in SA since 1993 but only recently have I been discovering the downtown area. He told me of the years where the streets in the area were not safe at night during the '80s and '90s. He said that things have been cleaned up recently, but still to be careful when walking this area of town after dark. "...ten cuidado, joven"
  • I asked him if he missed his home country. "My heart will always belong to Cuba," he told me, but he wanted to see the world. He asked me how much I knew of Fidel Castro. Not much, I told him, but I am eager to learn the history of Central American and South American countries. We discussed the portrayal of Fidel Castro by the U.S. government and media. "That's only one side of the story," he said, "the U.S. dislikes countries that are not willing to follow its model [of liberal capitalism], so they'll badmouth those leaders to discredit their reputation and leadership."
 -Lorax mural across the street from Little Patch-
  • He was glad that I was willing to engage him in conversation. "I love to speak with the youth," he said, "I am able to learn so much about the world from them." We spoke of our love for music, art, and culture.
  • He invited me to Gloria's for a cerveza or two. "Come on, follow me and I'll tell you a story about a man, an artist from Spain with a mustache that curled up to his eyes," illustrating a curling motion with his fingers. "Oh, you're speaking of Salvador Dali, no?" His eyes lit up when I asked the question. "Yes, yes! Come on!" I made my way toward my parking spot, turning around one last time to take in the glorious afternoon. "Maybe next time, Lazarito," I shouted back.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Sounds on the Margins Lecture - Follow Up

Sounds on the Margin Lecture
by Associate Professor Marco Cervantes

Presented at UTSA'S Institute of Texan Cultures, the lecture presented by Marco Cervantes was given as a follow up to the Sounds on the Margins Concert.

The comprehensive lecture began with an overview of the mixing of African slaves, indigenous Mexicans, and Spanish conquistadors, often on turbulent and violent terms, in the late 1500s-early 1600s, introducing the cultural implications of the terms mestizo and mestizaje, meaning a "mixed people".
He illustrated the Spanish casta system put in place in Mexico. This social hierarchy was largely based on color of skin - the dominant culture, of course, being those from Spain with fair skin and light hair. With Spanish men and women mixing with indigenous mexicans and imported african slaves, the casta system gave birth to the terms g├╝ero, prieto, and moreno, ordered from lightest to darkest skin tone.

Portraying the Mexican Revolution of 1810, we examined the complex history of Texas and the U.S-Mexican war, the implications of treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and the shaping of the cultural/physical landscape of the southwestern region of the U.S.

Rolling right along into the 20th century, Cervantes changed the focus of his lecture to contrast the similarities of Mexican-American and African-American music culture.
He began by making a striking comparison between musicians Lidia Mendoza and Huddie Ledbetter, better known as "Leadbelly". Demonstrating the universality of the folk ballad, Cervantes displayed the uncanny resemblance of "El Lirio"(Mendoza) to "Sweet Jenny Lee"(Leadbelly).

*Note: contrast the Mexican grito and the African-American field holler*
Moving from conjunto and orquesta groups, Chicano Soul of San Antonio in the '60s, the Tejano movement of the '70s and '80s - living on through Selena Quintanilla-Perez in the '90s - leading up to his hip-hop collaborative group Third Root.

Third Root, consisting of Charles "Easy Lee" Peters and Marcos Cervantes aka Mexican Stepgrandfather, is a collaboration of MCs, DJs, and musicians, putting forth a mission of shedding light on the afro-mex-american connection. Their lyrics exemplify a positive message calling for the unity of black and brown peoples of this nation, concerned with liberation of imposed hegemony in order to ultimately come together as Americans, from all ethnic backgrounds.

Since the origins of the U.S. census, the complications of race continue to distort our view of culture to this day. In the post-lecture Q&A session we discussed thoughts on transnationalism, establishing a sense of cultural identity, among other topics.

In terms of introducing ourselves to each other, Americans are often ask the question "what are you", implying "what is your race so we can better understand you".
For example, I would be considered prieto by my skin tone, yet I stand at 6' tall with Germanic/Nordic facial features, confusing people when I explain my Mexican heritage. Growing up as Mexican-Americans in Philadelphia, PA, my family was often mistaken for Greek or Iranian origin. Upon researching my own family tree, I find traces of Germanic and Swedish heritage. The name Gonzalez coming from Gundisalv -  from the Germanic gundp meaning "war" and Visigoth in origin.
A woman in the audience of fair skin and light hair with Mexican heritage gave her personal testimony of growing up in San Antonio, interacting with people disdainfully speaking about her in Spanish as if she was incapable of understanding, ostracizing her by complexion. Her testimony alone gives weight to the notion of Mexico parallels the U.S. as a melting pot of culture.

Overall, the lecture was absolutely remarkable in demonstrating the complexities of race and culture in North America, the information in this field of research proves to be ever-expanding. Any student, no matter the age or ethnicity, can take away something personal from this presentation while exploring cultural concerns.

Recommended reading by Marcos Cervantes:

  • Recovering History, Constructing Race: The Indian, Black, and White Roots of Mexican-Americans by Martha Menchaca
  • They Came Before Columbus: African Presence in Ancient America by Ivan Van Sertima

Future Events for ITC:
Family day with the Ruda Phat installation by Mas Rudas on 9.21


  • Concerning religion, the African-American civil rights movement of the '50s and '60s used the spirituals as a theme to overcome discrimination. However, beginning with such leaders as Malcom X in the mid-'60s, radical figures within the movement began abandoning Christian faith, abdicating that it was imposed upon them by Protestant and Puritan slave owners. In doing so, they began changing their given birth names and adopting Islamic names along with its religious views. Members of the Chicano movement also abandoned their Catholic faith, critcizing the role of the hierarchy of priests, cardinals, and bishops of Rome making decisions they felt were out of touch with the needs of their community. They also began changing their given Spanish or American names in favor of monikers from an Inca, Aztec, or Mayan culture.
  • Though christian-catholic faith has a strong presence in these communities today, what role will religion play in terms of constructing cultural identity in the 21st century?
  • When will we see the U.S. begin to think beyond race while maintaining a cultural identity?
  • For further reading, pick up the latest edition of Daedalus. A quarterly publication, this summer's issue focuses on the past, present, and future of immigration in America.

graphic courtesy of UTSA's ITC