Monica Solis’ “Threads the Stories that Bind Us”: Culture (Pt. 1)

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    Monica Solis’ “Threads the Stories that Bind Us”: Culture (Pt. 1)

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By: Monica Solis

Embedded in all of us is a story – it’s what that story means to us that makes all the difference, and today’s stories are about the embodiment of culture. Culture can be created and destroyed – Culture can create and destroy, and for those who see depth and strength in their own culture, they aim to never lose sight of it.

Sifting through the crowded sidewalks of downtown San Antonio, I embrace its distinct mesh of cultures – the culture of tourism, nicely blended with what I like to call true artists in residence – residents of the city and neighboring towns, who are artists wherever they set their nomadic eyes.

This month, some local artists have directed their attention to the festival affectionately called First Friday. It is a fest which encourages artists to proudly display and sell their work; it is a place for art appreciators and visitors alike, such as my friends and I, to idly walk the streets, saying “loooook how cool, I wish I could get this,” as we sip on our overpriced beer, only briefly acknowledging the irony until we are whisked away again with the sounds of lively accordions and guitars seeping through the evening air. I’m with two of my close friends and we are in awe of the lights strewn about the trees lining the vendor and tourist filled sidewalks. We may sound silly, making the typical “ooo’s” and “ah’s…” but this is more than a tourist town or a city revved up by an NBA championship play-off series.

Tonight, San Antonio embodies the proud representation of cultures – from the cultures of ethnicity like the largely Latino population to the more abstract, belief-structured cultures that focus on ideals of meditation or as one girl told me, “a center for learning.”

“We always come out here, usually first Fridays,” says one Hara Krishna member. “We come and sing the mantra. So we go around singing ‘Hara Krishna Hara Krishna Krishna Krishna Hari Hari…’The ‘Hari’ means energy, ’Krishna’ means source of that energy, and ‘rama’ means source of all pleasure.”

They are the “International Society for Krishna Consciousness, or the Hari Krishna’s” – and they represent their culture of positivity through a repetitive chant that seeks a more profound purpose.

“We try to chant these things so that way people can calm their mind and elevate their consciousness,” the member says.

Just two blocks down, is a tent nestled between that of  a mysterious, female palm reader and that of an older Asian man hurriedly explaining his most popular items to a crowd of customers. In the middle of these two vendors, behind a table filled with Native American jewelry, Rudy Alaquines stands laughing and chatting with his friend.

“I’m Lipan Apache too and I don’t get mad – I get even,” Alaquines says. “I don’t steal horses no more, I steal cars!”

But then Alaquines gets serious, pausing to reflect on why accurately representing his culture – through art – is so important.

“It’s sort of like saying Remember the Alamo…it’s saying remember the Native Americans,” Alaquines says.

He tells me that he and his friends like to go to San Marcos where it’s more “small town,” and is a good place to display the Native American art he makes at their many Pow- wows hosted there, mostly in November, which is Native American Heritage Month.

Richard Booth, a friend of Alaquines, stands solemnly by his side, nodding politely at customers picking up the turquoise and quartz stones from their vendor tables. Rosaries, necklaces, and bracelets, all made by Booth, lay out on the two, cloth-draped tables under a white tent.

“It’s important to me just to keep up with the arts and the craft of the Native American,” Booth says. “This to me shows us how the creativity in the Native Americans still lives on. I believe myself, that everything we have here on Earth came from Earth. So when I make a rosary out of rock, I’m just making it from the Earth, you know, from Mother Earth. So that’s why it means a lot to me, just to give that creativity to the jewelry.”

Deeply touched by this insight, as I have Apache background myself, I journey back home to San Marcos a couple of days later, wondering:  What do we have here in our own city that fights to keep the expression of culture alive? Is it an individual, an institution, a group?

Alexias Ferrer is a music freshman at Texas State University and the music instructor to a handful of kids that sometimes gather in an old, white building off Lee Street in San Marcos. This building stands as a historical construct of the city – a school that was once “the Mexican school,” in the days of school segregation.  Now, the building provides a different type of education, welcoming pupils of all ages and backgrounds. It is the Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos or, the Hispanic Cultural Center of San Marcos.

Ferrer has been playing the past 17 years.  His great aunt, Ofelia Vasquez- Philo, founded the Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos three years ago as an establishment of expression of the Hispanic culture and history in San Marcos. The center, known as “Centro,” even has its own small museum that is made up largely of Mexican American artifacts donated by San Marcos residents.

Centro’s museum is the pride and joy of its’ executive director, Bobbie Garza-Hernandez. And as the music instructor of Centro has family ties to its founder, executive director Hernandez has ties to some of the very people honored in Centro.

 “My family is originally from here,” says Hernandez. “We are now actually seven generations of Garzas here in San Marcos. My great grandparents were some of the early pioneer settlers here and actually lived just a couple of blocks from here in the very first Mexican American barrio here in San Marcos.”

Hernandez says a lot of her family still live here, but that it’s not about where you live but what you know to be your home.

Next week, we will reveal more of Hernandez’s story in a part two of this episode on culture.

I’m Monica Solis, and this has been “Threads” – the stories that bind us.

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