Natalia Alejandra Ramírez Juárez, of Trio Nueva Herencia, practices before performing at the ¡Viva Hemisfair! Friday Kick-Off at Yanaguana Garden.
Natalia Alejandra Ramírez Juárez, of Trio Nueva Herencia, practices before performing at the ¡Viva Hemisfair! Friday Kick-Off at Yanaguana Garden. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Hemisfair Park’s 50th Anniversary celebration, ¡Viva Hemisfair!, kicked off Friday evening at the Institute of Texan Cultures and Yanaguana Garden with the opening of art exhibitions, live musical performances, and remarks delivered by some of the city’s elected representatives and distinguished guests.

The weekend-long festival, also an official Tricentennial event, commemorates the downtown park’s beginnings as the site of the 1968 World’s Fair. It showcases the diversity and heritage of the city’s population with foods, performances, art, and music from different cultures.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg got into the spirit of the multicultural event by wearing a kilt to the festivities in honor of Tartan Day.

“The theme of Hemisfair ’68 was the confluence of civilizations in the Americas,” he said. “In 1968 San Antonio was, and in 2018 San Antonio remains, a beacon of diversity done right.”

¡VIVA Hemisfair¡ and ¡VIVA ITC¡, two art and historical exhibitions assembled for the festivities, opened at the institute for the remainder of the Tricentennial year. Together they represent half a century’s worth of history behind the park and the institute, which both opened in 1968.

Banners advertising HemisFair ‘68 and other assorted pieces of memorabilia from the 1960s are displayed in the exhibits. Photographs of the activities, cultures, and people from that original festival hang on the walls.

“It’s a lot of fun to see it, and to see how people view what happened 50 years ago,” said Rebeca “Becky” Barrera, who was a VIP tour guide at the 1968 World’s Fair and whose picture now hangs in the !VIVA Hemisfair! exhibit. “It’s amazing to see all our friends on the hall and to think about what a great time that was for San Antonio.”

Images displayed on the 26-screen Dome Theater above the roughly 275 people gathered for the party showed scenes from HemisFair ’68 juxtaposed with the new developments coming to Hemisfair Park.

The event also served as an opportunity to recognize the institute’s Texas Star Heritage Award recipients, people who have contributed to the work of preserving Texas heritage and celebrating the state’s diversity. This year recognizes the Asociacion de Charros de San Antonio, Catalina Torres Schessler of the Panamanian community, Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long of the Long Foundation, Renee Watson of the Bexar County Small, Minority and Women Owned Enterprise program, and Dr. Rajam Ramamurthy of the Arathi School of Indian Dance.

The free weekend festivities continue on Saturday starting at noon with musical performances by Castro “Etondo” Band and Bombasta inside Yanaguana Garden. The Common Currents 1968 art exhibit will be open at the Mexican Cultural Institute featuring artists Jose Dávila, Rocío Sáenz, and Roberto Rébora.

Cultural zones inside the garden include foods, musical performances, and activities related to American, Mexican, Spanish, French, German, Italian, African, Middle Eastern, and Asian cultures. Other exhibits, events, and activities will be available to visitors until 9 p.m.

The celebration ends Sunday with festivities running from noon until 5 p.m, including musical performances by the Toro Flores Trío and the Dirty River Dixie Band. Art exhibitions will remain open on Sunday, along with tours of the historic homes situated around the park.

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Jeffrey Sullivan

Jeffrey Sullivan is a Rivard Report reporter. He graduated from Trinity University with a degree in Political Science.