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More than 100 people streamed into the San Antonio Country Club Thursday to honor Alamo Travel Group CEO Patricia Pliego Stout at the Noche de Amistad gala, hosted by the San Antonio-Mexico Friendship Council (SAMFCO). But with the recent political climate, Thursday also was a night for individuals to come together and reaffirm the common values, the culture, and the people that bind San Antonio and Mexico.
SAMFCO, founded in 1996, is celebrating 20 years of strengthening and promoting cultural and historical ties shared by the citizens of both countries. Back in 1995, then Consul General of Mexico in San Antonio Carlos Sada wanted to reactivate the “Grito” celebration on Sept. 15. He worked with Veronica Salazar Escobedo, and together they obtained the necessary donations to commemorate the “Grito” in 1996. After the momentous event, it became apparent that a formal organization was needed, and thus, the nonprofit SAMFCO was formed. The council hosts charitable, cultural, educational and literary events throughout the year.
“By all accounts this has been an interesting year for U.S. and Mexico relations,” Consul General of Mexico in San Antonio Héctor Velasco Monroy said, with laughs erupting from the audience. “This bilateral elixir in San Antonio will become it’s great strength. Evidence can be found in the convention center wall, proclaiming this city as a confluence of cultures.”
Patricia Pliego Stout, through her work in the travel industry, represents the essence of the spirit in both countries, Velasco added. Her diligence, vision, and optimism are among the best qualities of both countries.
Pliego launched the Alamo Travel Group in 1990 and joined other industrial partners in promoting San Antonio as a visitor, health care, and business destination, which established her company’s reputation. She built a strong reputation as a minority, woman-owned business among the city’s government agencies, using her travel contacts at the state, federal, and local levels. Today, Alamo Travel has become a nationally-recognized business.
The Amistad Award, gifted by SAMFCO, recognizes Pliego’s work of bridging US-Mexico relations through business. Each year, the award is given to an individual or organization that personifies the mission of the Council.
“At this particular time, (the path both of our countries) take has a particular importance,” Velasco added. People on both sides of the border are responsible for the path that history takes, he said, and we cannot afford to lose the progress we have made when it comes to civil rights.
“It is very hard to put into words just how important the San Antonio-Mexico relationship is,” said Mayor Ivy Taylor, as she listed the vital addition of Velasco and Instituto Cultural de México Director Mónica del Arenal to San Antonio. Taylor also listed pivotal trade missions to Mexico and other bicultural, civic, educational, and economic organizations that benefit the city such as the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the North American Development Bank, and the Association of Mexican Entrepreneurs (AEM).
“This continues interaction that recently picked up speed with the signing a year ago of an MOU with Mexico City,” Taylor said, “which fosters job growth and joint initiatives in both cities on economic development, exports, foreign direct investment, innovation research, education, and human capital.”
Taylor congratulated Pliego for receiving the Amistad Award and called her an inspiration for other women.
“Que niña tremenda eres,” said UTSA Institute for Economic Development
Associate Vice President Robert McKinley, as he came forward to congratulate the honoree. “I’m here to present the other Patricia, the ‘how’ she has achieved so much.”
When Pliego’s marriage and business fell on hard times, McKinley said, she confronted the stark reality of supporting her kids and making the business succeed all on her own. “She is a cumplidora – she makes and keeps commitments and this is one of her strongest traits, which make her a leader.”
From humble beginnings in the 1990s, along with a couple of helpers, Pliego worked hard and smart, “knowing that failure was not an option and was not it in her character,” McKinley added. A fast learner, avid salesperson, and an extremely organized woman, it was this that got her to build the largest travel agency in South Texas.
Pliego left Mexico for opportunity, McKinley said, but Mexico never left her heart as she championed NAFTA through trade missions outbound and inbound, accompanying mayors, and taking MBA students down to Mexico to learn about trade.
“We need to remain good neighbors forever,” McKinley said. “With today’s complex politics, SAMFCO will continue to champion our long ties to Mexico, and our shared destiny and respect, which will never waver.”
With tears in her eyes, Pliego thanked everyone present Thursday, and thanked those who supported the friendship with Mexico over the years.
“We opened doors everywhere and I just can’t imagine living without that opportunity,” she said. “I see so many faces that went along on these trips, following our mayors that wanted to open doors with Mexico and make the relationship even stronger.”
Going back to Mexico was what made her reconnect to her roots, she added, “because having lived here already 14 or 15, I was already losing it – ya estaba hablando como pocha, I think.”
Pliego thinks there’s a lot of work to do in order to better the relationship between both countries, especially after the results of election season.
“We’re gonna have to work overtime guys, there is a lot of work to do because Mexico has suffered labels that do not belong to us and we have to repair that damage,” she said. “It only happens when people don’t know us well.
“SAMFCO is gonna be our platform of unity to make sure that we make every effort possible so that this friendship becomes larger and stronger than ever, porque la frontera no se mueve y aquí nos quedamos los dos en cada lado (because the border doesn’t move and here we stay, both of us on each side).”