I never liked American History class in high school. I always felt like I was learning someone else’s history. I was raised in a traditional Ecuadorian household in Queens, and my parents were always reminding us of our homeland their belief that some day we would go back.
The rest of the kids in my neighborhood and borough came from similar situations: first or second generation immigrant families, caught between two cultures, and never quite fitting into either one. People refer to New York as a “melting pot,” but the reality is New York is a segregated place.
The Colombians are in a certain place, the Dominicans in another, the Indians somewhere else. Some cultures live in the same neighborhood, but still tend to stick to themselves. The real beneficiaries of New York’s cultural diversity are the people on guided food tours of the boroughs.
Usually, when people think of New York they think Times Square, Broadway, Central Park, maybe Wall Street. This city I call home is the financial and cultural center of the United States. People come from all over to experience the sights. Tourists in the Big Apple can be annoying and aggravating. They can bring out the worst in the natives. I became a mean New Yorker. Below the glitz and glamour there are dirty subway stations, crazy people who talk to themselves, segregation, gentrification, and the winter — the winter is really hard in New York. Part of the reason I moved to San Antonio in December of last year was because how horrible the season is up there.
More importantly, I moved to San Antonio because it is the hometown of my partner in crime. He had seen so much of New York with me and he wanted me to see where he grew up and how different it was. I had never heard of San Antonio, but when I started telling people that I was moving down there I found out that Texas is trending. Lots of people had good things to say about the city. It excited me to trade the Northeast winter for the Sun Belt.
I found San Antonio’s people to be as warm as the city’s weather. Starting with a meeting with Iris Dimmick, managing editor of the Rivard Report, I realized how different people were here. People in San Antonio were open, ready to meet for coffee, and always open to conversation. In New York you have to chase editors around as if they own the Internet. In San Antonio I got to write regularly for this wonderful publication, and I also became quite involved with the literary community.
I befriended poets, performers, musicians, and professors and was even able to perform on stage at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center with then poet laureate of San Antonio, Carmen Tafolla. I also got to perform poetry at Mega Corazon, put on by Urban-15, where I was in the company of 24 of San Antonio’s premier poets in a six-hour live broadcast. I can only express the amount of gratitude I hold to the literary and arts community of San Antonio for welcoming me with open arms. It was truly a humbling experience.
From a cultural aspect, San Antonio was always accommodating. In New York I felt segregation, and feel it again now that I have moved back home. In San Antonio there are third, fourth, and even older generations of Mexican-Americans and Chicanos whose families had immigrated long ago or lived there forever. I sensed a deep feeling of inclusivity and mutual struggle. It felt more like, “We’re in this together” rather than, “It’s us against them.” I loved that feeling.
In New York I worked as a housing advocate, and I got to see the underbelly of the city. From scary home visits in the projects to being yelled at by lawyers and judges in housing court, I got to share the experiences of the many New Yorkers facing eviction. It was not pretty and I burned out. In San Antonio I did similar work, but with stark differences. I worked at the San Antonio AIDS Foundation. I got to see all of San Antonio as I did home visits beyond Loop 410 and even beyond Loop 1604. Because the majority of the population I was working with were gay men, I felt a much deeper sense of community. I was honored to serve my community in a place I called home for almost one year.
I thought that being gay in San Antonio was going to be difficult, but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that San Antonio is actually quite queer. There were so many things that led me to feel very comfortable as a gay man in SAtown. There were all those late nights on The Strip and Cornyation. Queer performances at The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center and the SA Pride Parade. The opening of the new PRIDE Center, and everyone’s openness to my partner and me. Out of all cities in the U.S., San Antonio has the most same-sex parents.
One thing that I never got used to in San Anto, though, was the driving. In New York you walk, you walk everywhere – and it’s wonderful. My body actually went through physical discomfort from having to get used to all of the sitting I was doing in SAtown. I hope to see San Antonio have some sort of transit system akin to bigger cities one day.
Also I think that cultural gentrification and appropriation are happening everywhere. But there is something quite strange I felt in San Antonio – it’s hard to describe but there were parts of the city that felt like it was trying too hard – trying to, perhaps, be something it’s not. Some of my favorite parts of the city were not the new glitzy restaurants or bars but the down to earth taco stands and local bars. One example is The Pearl Brewery. It is definitely a very beautiful space and has made good use of the river, however I find some of the stores there bizarre and unnecessary. It felt a little contrived; almost too planned for tourists, so much so that I spotted a double decker tour bus – an eyesore. I also found some of the stores somewhat disrespectful to the cultural heritage of San Antonio as they sold traditional mexican/hispanic clothing and accessories at exorbitant prices. There was also a lack of local art throughout the entire complex; I didn’t get the feeling of hominess that I had come to love from SA at The Pearl at all, instead it felt almost alienated from the rest of the city.
I am leaving San Antonio because I found it wanting. I was accepted into graduate school at The London School of Economics and Political Science, and I am currently spending some time with my family in New York before I jump across the pond. Overall, my year in San Antonio was a great experience. It is a beautiful city with lots of potential. I hope it hangs on to its homey charm and doesn’t try to get too cosmopolitan. How could I forget the San Antonio and Guadalupe Rivers? And the brisket? I had never “tubed” or eaten brisket before I came to San Antonio, and loved doing both.
San Antonio – you treated me so well and I just want to say, thank you. You gave me a very different perspective on what it means to be American, better than anything I learned in history class, and that is truly invaluable.
*Featured/top image: In my wonderful car. Though I hated driving everywhere – it was a convertible after all. Courtesy photo.