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In a city that was once Mexico, a majority of events for Hispanic Heritage Month are centered around Mexican culture.
But Latinos in San Antonio say the start of the month-long holiday is an opportunity to celebrate diversity among Hispanic American and Latino communities.
This weekend, Mexican Independence Day kicks off the start of Hispanic Heritage Month. Across the city, events commemorate the holiday with Friday’s El Grito, or independence cry where crowds shout, “Viva Mexico, Viva la Independencia,” a Dieciséis de Septiembre parade celebrating independence day itself, and mariachi and Ballet Folklorico performances at Historic Market Square, to name a few.
As Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala all also celebrate their countries’ independence on Sept. 15, the same day as Mexico’s El Grito, Latinos across San Antonio are celebrating their Latin American culture in unique ways.
“We’re Hispanic, but we’re all different,” said Karina Pinto, president of the 501 c(3) nonprofit Hondureños en San Antonio, Texas. The group raises money for scholarships for students in the community and hosts fundraising events to feed people in Honduras.
While thousands celebrated El Grito at Historic Market Square on Friday, a small crowd gathered on the West Side to celebrate the independence of Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico.
A growing number of Latinos in San Antonio inspired Domesticas Unidas San Antonio to put on the independence day celebration at the Rinconcito de Esperanza on the West Side on Friday.
The group empowers about 35 domestic workers in San Antonio, many of which who are immigrants from Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Cuba and Nicaragua, Haiti and Brazil, and ensures that workers from those countries know their rights.
San Antonio residents from Honduras showed up in culturally significant clothing and colors representing their countries, and children ran around in colorful tunics and groups mingled and smiled for photos.
The smell of Honduran tamales filled the air outside, as Mexican American poet Violeta Garza recited a poem dedicated to the Domesticas Unidas San Antonio.
Pinto, who is from Honduras, said when she moved to San Antonio eight years ago with her husband, she felt lonely and far away from the culture in her country.
In San Antonio, 65.7% of the population identifies as Hispanic Latino. With more migration from Latin American countries within recent years, that number will continue to grow.
But even surrounded by a Hispanic majority population, Pinto felt alienated.
Pinto said she noticed a general focus on Mexican culture when people discussed Hispanidad, a term that refers to the common values and cultural attitudes shared among Hispanic communities.
“It does not highlight [how] diverse we are. Each country contributes culturally in unique ways, whether it’s food, music, art,” she said in Spanish. “Each one of us have something to contribute.”
Pinto said she started asking where the Honduran community was in San Antonio and once she gathered a small group of people, she started the nonprofit. Hondureños en San Antonio, Texas has more than 4,000 members and is one of 14 Latino nonprofits that form the Sociedad Cultural Hispanoamericana San Antonio Texas, an umbrella organization to that supports and promotes San Antonio’s Latino culture across Central and South America and Spain.
Especially during Hispanic Heritage Month, “[society] should focus on inclusion of all cultures as Hispanic Americans,” Pinto said.
Leonor Houston, the president of CASA Argentina de San Antonio, Texas who is also a member of the Sociedad, said too often people assume those who speak Spanish are from Mexico.
“But now they’re realizing there are [people from] more Latin American countries in San Antonio,” Houston said. “We don’t feel bad, because we understand this is their [Mexican Americans’] home [too]. That’s why we always want to promote Latino culture.”
And that includes Mexico, she said.
The City of San Antonio is also sponsoring two events honoring Latino cultures.
Urban-15 will host a virtual Latino film screening, which highlights artists from Cuba, Argentina, Chile and other Latin American countries for a week starting Friday, while the San Antonio Central Library on Sept. 23 will host a cumbia and bachata dance class during Hispanic Heritage Month, and Collins Garden Branch Library will show the West Side Story; a musical about the Puerto Rican community in New York in the late 50s on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
While mariachi and Ballet Folklorico are staples of Mexico’s artistic heritage, cumbia is a rhythm and dance from Colombia and bachata is a genre of music from the Dominican Republic.
In a press release announcing events for Hispanic Heritage Month, the City of San Antonio said its diverse festivities commemorate Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1810 and honor San Antonio’s strong connection to Mexico.
“This programming aims to encourage San Antonians to not only celebrate these rich and diverse cultures for a month out of the year but to recognize and connect with the deep roots of Hispanic and Latino culture within our city year-round,” the city said in the release.
That variation in cultural celebrations adds needed diversity to San Antonio’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations, said Andres Urbano, president of the Sociedad Cultural Hispanoamericana San Antonio Texas.
“To begin with, this was Mexico,” Urbano said. “The Hispanic heritage of Mexico is here, but as small Latino communities, we’ve neglected knocking on doors and saying, ‘We’re here.’
“We [had been] fragmented.”
That was until 2017, when Urbano established the nonprofit which brought together 14 leaders of established nonprofits that support Latin American communities in San Antonio.
“We decided it was necessary to work together, that’s when we came together and became a force,” Urbano said, sitting on a small bench in a kid’s playroom inside an eye clinic at the Wonderland Mall of the Americas.
“It’s our responsibility to make ourselves known and that we’re here,” he said.
On the last day of Hispanic Heritage Month, Oct. 15, the Sociedad will host the fifth annual Hispanic Trails Cultural Festival at the Wonderland Mall of the Americas, an annual eight-hour event that showcases Latino cultures. Money raised from the event will fund scholarships to students in the community.
The outdoor festival brings in at least 3,000 people who enjoy diverse food, culture and art from Latin American countries. Argentinian groups will play and dance to tango music and share foods like arepas, pan, ceviche and baleadas, to name a few.
Urbano said the City of San Antonio and Balcones Heights have long been supporters of its organization. In the past, the Sociedad has hosted events at La Villita, the San Antonio River Walk, and has been recognized by Mayor Ron Nirenberg and State Sen. José Menéndez.
Mayor of Balcones Heights Suzanne DeLeon said San Antonio and Bexar County are diverse and multicultural and full of people eager to share their culture and history.
“We should want to ensure that our children and grandchildren know about their roots and background,” she said.