The Guadalupe Dance Company performs a Canary Island folk dance.
The Guadalupe Dance Company performs a Canary Island folk dance at the Tricentennial Founders’ Day Gala to showcase the history of San Antonio and Bexar County. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

It was a night for the history books Thursday evening when San Antonio rolled out the red carpet for a dazzling gala worthy of the city’s 300th birthday.

Dressed in their finest, hundreds of San Antonians, plus local, state, and foreign dignitaries gathered at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention for the Tricentennial Founders’ Day Gala, a night to “remember the past and look to the future” while honoring the city’s multicultural heritage, its friendships abroad, distinguished visitors, and past leaders.

Guests arriving to the event were greeted by the sights and sounds of Sister Cities’ gifts and performers from Wuxi, China, and Gwangju, South Korea. Gala Chairwomen Erika Prosper and Tracy Wolff introduced the event’s program by welcoming Texas’ First Lady Cecilia Abbott and thanking the Tricentennial Commission leadership and NuStar executive and gala chairwoman Mary Rose Brown.

The event featured an entertainment program marking San Antonio’s major historical milestones in a timeline of spoken word, song, and dance.

Some of the dozen or so speakers included San Antonio’s 181st mayor, Julián Castro, its first black mayor, Ivy Taylor, Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, State Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio), Frost Bank President Pat Frost, and actor and native son Nicholas Gonzalez.

Alongside Spurs legend David Robinson, former Mayor Phil Hardberger welcomed military service members in the audience, thanked them for their service, and acknowledged the city’s long connection with the military that “reinforces our values, freedom, service, integrity, and a strong work ethic.”

Celina Moreno, Southwest regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, spoke about civil rights, saying, “San Antonio has been a focal point for national change for Latinos.”

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff also introduced special guests, Spain’s duke and duchess of Bejar, and several family members.

As waiters delivered glasses of champagne with flashing cubes that made the ballroom sparkle from end to end, Mayor Ron Nirenberg saluted San Antonio, “the sparkling gemstone in our country’s crown, the city with the hearty hug of friendliness, and the deep soul of authenticity – America’s City …

“For 300 years we have stood deep in the heart of Texas, strong, resilient, a city of big and bold ideas, forward-thinking, innovative, and we’ll continue to stand tall for many generations to come.

“We commemorate our city’s courageous past, we celebrate our bountiful present, moving forward with confidence to be a prosperous and glorious future for all San Antonians as we commit to being our best and an inspiration for all cities.”

Thrilled with the evening’s program, Mary Wisniewski, a Catholic school development director, remarked, “This is really a who’s who of San Antonio history.” She had come to the event hoping to see people from some of the countries she assisted while working in the Archdiocesan Missions office from 1991-2014.

“San Antonio is a great city that celebrates its history and culture, and you don’t find that in many cities,” said Nina Carr, a Tricentennial Commission volunteer who joined her Nigerian-born husband, Dr. Valentine Ugwu, at the event.

It was an excellent evening, Xia Liu, deputy mayor of Sister City Wuxi, China, told the Rivard Report after the program concluded.

Wuxi also has an important river, Liu said. Through an interpreter, she explained that her city had just that day signed a Sister City River Exchange agreement with the San Antonio River Authority, adding that she looked forward to sharing expertise that will continue to improve both cities now and into the future.

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.