A member of the Danzavida dance troupe performs a solo at Piñatas in the Barrio.
A member of the Danzavida dance troupe performs a solo at Piñatas in the Barrio. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

On the city’s West Side, dancers in traditional vibrantly colored ballet folklórico dresses took to the center of a stage Saturday surrounded by giant star piñatas. Weaving through the crowd, visitors wearing flower crowns and sashes mingled with performers of all ages getting ready for their moment.

Though Piñatas in the Barrio is nestled away at Guadalupe Plaza, a distance away from higher-profile Fiesta events held downtown, it’s not hard to see how the annual event draws in a crowd. At the concession stands, it’s easy to find food and drinks for under $5, and the entertainment is free. For the event’s organizers, siblings Margo and Rick Uriegas, it was important that the event be affordable for everyone.

In 1997, the first iteration of Piñatas in the Barrio began as a way to bring Fiesta to the West Side’s older community. As the event has continued to grow, it’s become a place for everyone to enjoy Fiesta without breaking the bank, while also benefiting the Uriegas’ nonprofit Action United for Entertainers and Diverse Artists (AUEDA). Through their scholarships, the nonprofit provides help to artists and entertainers of all ages, genders, and artist types who have fallen on hard times.

Linda Ramirez, an AUEDA board member, has been involved with Piñatas in the Barrio for 10 years. “This has always been a very humble event. We cater to the lower-income people of the community,” Ramirez said. “It’s a way for people in the neighborhood to have a Fiesta [within] their means. They don’t have to sit it out just because they don’t have much money.”

Over the years the event has continued to grow and change. Since it became an official Fiesta event, El Rey Feo comes to crown the Rey and Reina of the Barrio. While Rick Uriegas said it’s great that Piñatas in the Barrio has gained more recognition, he wants to ensure the event didn’t stray too far from its roots.

“The community’s really embraced it,” Uriegas said. “A lot of the older generation has really instilled giving back to their grandchildren, nephews, and nieces, so they really support us taking care of our neighborhoods, our youth, and our elders.”

While Uriegas always pours considerable effort into the event, this year, he went a step further this year and tried his hand at constructing one of the piñatas for which the event is named. Rather than starting small, he set out to create a larger-than-life decoration that his visitors wouldn’t soon forget. The result of two months of work was the event’s centerpiece: a 8-by-12-foot multicolored bull dubbed the “Barrio’s Largest Piñata.”

Ramirez said the idea was to provide their guests with an equally impressive display of San Antonio’s Fiesta spirit, but closer to home.

“We want to show people that we don’t have to be part of the rich side of San Antonio to get recognized,” Ramirez said. “But having that recognition from Fiesta and from Fiesta royalty means a lot. It feels like it’s not just us throwing our own party – they care, too.”

This year, Westside residents Gloria and Jose de Hoyos were crowned King and Queen of the Barrio. Born and raised in San Antonio, the husband and wife have been around Fiesta their whole lives. As king and queen, they will get to participate in the Battle of Flowers and Fiesta Flambeau parades.

For 22 years, Uriegas and his sister have worked to grow their event. With each Fiesta, he said they hope their mission of giving back continues to spread across the city so that one day, the event that has become a household name on the West Side becomes a household name across San Antonio.

“This is for everyone,” Uriegas said. “But especially for the people that have been in the West Side, grown up here, and given their lives to the community.”

(From left) Piñatas in the Barrio Queen Gloria De Hoyos and King Jose De Hoyos.
(From left) Piñatas in the Barrio Queen Gloria De Hoyos and King Jose De Hoyos. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report
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Cat Cardenas

Cat Cardenas is a freelance journalist from San Antonio focused on news and culture reporting.