Robert Rivard

El día de la madre took on new meaning Friday night when San Antonio’s Primera Madre/First Mother Rosie Castro was honored with speeches, recited verse and a stunning new mural at Casa Rosa, as the former Museo Alameda has been newly rechristened.

More formally, the festively colored building on the southeast corner of Santa Rosa Avenue and Commerce Street has become the Texas A&M University-San Antonio Educational & Cultural Arts Center.

Unveiled: Artist Armando Sanchez' 33-foot long mural of San Antonio Latino icons.
Unveiled: Artist Armando Sanchez’ 33-foot long mural of San Antonio Latino icons.

Master of ceremonies and former Mayor Henry Cisneros aptly noted that San Antonio is the only Texas city that can claim to be home to a UT and A&M campus, and now  both schools have a downtown presence. His spontaneous gesture to call both university presidents,

Dr. Maria Hernandez Ferrier and Dr. Ricardo Romo, to the stage was an inspired  moment. It would never happen elsewhere, and the crowd gave both a lot of love. Nobody in this city wants to take sides.

Drs. Maria Ferrier and Ricardo Romo take the stage.
Dr. Maria Ferrier of Texas A&M and Dr. Ricardo Romo of UTSA take the stage.

Casa Rosa has a ring that seems fitting, at least on a night when it could have been called Casa Rosie. The mother of two of the nation’s most promising elected officials, Mayor Julián Castro and U.S. Congressman Joaquín Castro, is now the city’s most celebrated mother. How many American cities have a First Mom?

“This is a night that is long overdue,” Cisneros told the audience, adding that he and Rosie first met in kindergarten. “Rosie Castro is the woman of the hour. She is a community activist who helped change the dynamic of this city.”

Rosie is humble when caught in public , someone who has always struck me as shy around strangers, but she has a compelling narrative of her own to share. She didn’t speak publicly Friday night, but after the official program ended, she faced a long line of familiar faces wanting a beso and an abrazo.

TAMUSA President Maria Ferrier stands with the woman of the hour, Rosie Castro, and Jorge Cortez as Rosie's son, Major Julian Castro looks on. Photo by Al Rendon.
After the Casa Rosa unveiling and poem honoring mother’s day, TAMUSA President Maria Ferrier stands with the woman of the hour, Rosie Castro, and Jorge Cortez as Rosie’s son, Major Julián Castro proudly looks on. Photo by Al Rendon.

She’s the daughter of a child immigrant from Mexico who never got farther than grade school, yet Rosie herself went on to college, a life of public service, and work that made her a respected civil rights activist. As a single mother, she also was the family breadwinner.

With her mother’s help she raised twin boys whose journey from Jefferson High School to Stanford and then Harvard Law became a prime time narrative when Mayor Castro delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte last summer. Brother Joaquín introduced him that night, adding to the drama. I feel safe in saying that will never happen again in American politics unless events propel the two back on to a national convention stage.

If you were not at Casa Rosa Friday night, you likely will hear about it. It was one of those evenings when a crowd animated by light and two languages seemed to sense a historical moment was unfolding, even if no one said so. Part of it was Henry, who can lend import and circumstance to any gathering.  But there was more. This was a multi-generational gathering and celebration of San Antonio’s Latino political, business and cultural elites. Not Fiesta royalty, but the real thing.

Jorge Cortez, the real royalty of downtown San Antonio.
Jorge Cortez, the real royalty of downtown San Antonio.

It was an important night, first and foremost, because people who lived their lives way outside the spotlight were honored. Rosie and her generation were the frontline fighters in a city more divided than united. Credit and affirmation is something they neither expected nor received. Yet they made everything possible for Julián, Joaquín, Diego Bernal, Leticia Ozuna, Rey Saldaña, all present Friday night– a new generation of highly educated, highly polished and highly ambitious leaders who know they can compete on any stage and win.

Another reason it was an important night was the acknowledgement that another Westside role model, Dr. Maria Hernandez Ferrier, has made Texas A&M-San Antonio the real deal. Frankly, many in this city’s business and civic leadership couldn’t find the campus without Google Map. People now seem to realize, however, that this is a real university that is growing fast.

It’s the new Southside story. A&M-San Antonio is happening in the historically ignored Southside. The San Antonio River’s Mission Reach, the restored Spanish Missions and World Heritage Site campaign, Port San Antonio, and Brooks City-Base. No wonder Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp shifted into full gringo Spanish mode with the crowd, winning both laughs and applause for his valiant efforts and his praise of Ferrier.

Henry Cisneros opens the ceremony at Texas A&M's new Casa Rosa, formerly the Museo Alameda in Market Square - El Mercado.
Henry Cisneros opens the ceremony at Texas A&M’s new Casa Rosa, formerly the Museo Alameda in Market Square – El Mercado.

The evening’s program, paced by Cisneros, was suffused with symbolism of both struggle and triumph, all of that emotion evident on the faces captured on San Antonio Artist Armando Sanchez’s 33-foot long mural theatrically unveiled by Jorge Cortez and an army of smartly dressed Mi Tierra loyalists.

The vibrantly colored mural  brings on to history’s stage a roll call of local Latino leaders, from Henry B. Gonzalez holding a copy of La Prensa to Pete Cortez, whose visionary investments in Market Square laid the foundation for what is now called La Zona Cultural.

The Zona Cultural reaches from the River Walk below Main Plaza to San Fernando Cathedral, west along Commerce Street to encompass the new downtown Texas A&M-San Antonio center to Mi Tierra and El Mercado and on to Pico de Gallo, another Cortez family holding and the venue where the Sanchez mural will permanently reside.

The nexus of arts and politics was everywhere on display in ways not seen often enough in San Antonio. The event drew a who’s who of Latino leadership and a stylish crowd that buzzed bilingually in between speakers and videos, fueled by Cortez food and libations.

Sanchez, who joined Cortez on stage and looked smart in a black beret, did not speak, but his art spoke for him. The walls of the center’s second floor all but glowed, adorned with the Cortez family’s deep collection of original Sanchez paintings.

Downstairs, Ernest Bromley, chairman and CEO of Bromley Communications and chairman of the Teatro Alameda, was offering signed prints of artist Jesse Trevino’s iconic painting of the theater. The funds will help pay for the theater’s ongoing restoration.  Trevino, looking frail and wan as he struggles with health issues, was on hand and warmly greeted by well-wishers who have lamented his absence from public life of late.

Mayor Castro joined on stage by wife Erica and daughter Carina Victoria.
Mayor Castro joined on stage by wife Erica and daughter Carina Victoria.

Mayor Castro, who reminded the audience that he was born one minute before Joaquín,  represented the Castro family  at the microphone to express the family’s appreciation. He was joined by wife Erica and daughter Carina Victoria. Rosie might have agreed to move up to the front row this one time, but she wasn’t about to make herself the center of attention.

“Many faces in this room have known my mother longer than I’ve been alive,” the mayor quipped. “She’s fought all her life so that young men and women can have even greater opportunities than her.”

I have long been an aficionado of Neftalí de Leon, the San Antonio poet and artist. He arrived wearing a spangled bronze shirt and gold chain and delivered an energetic and sparkling stage presentation of a poem he composed especially for Rosie and the occasion.  The Rivard Report will publish it in full Sunday on Mother’s Day, including the orignal art that he included in the presentation.

Poet and artist Neftalí de Leon performs his new poem.
Poet and artist Neftalí de Leon performs his new poem.

Viva, Viva Rosie Castro!” Cisneros exclaimed, the crowd’s echo following him as he left the stage and the evening came to a close, the densely packed room dissolving into small clusters of friends and family embracing and exclaiming.

Follow Robert Rivard on Twitter @rivardreport or on Facebook.

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is co-founder and columnist at the San Antonio Report.