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For underserved and marginalized Black and Latinx communities, who have not been able to afford modern Western health care, alternative traditional remedies, concoctions, and energy work have served to remedy afflictions for generations.
From high fevers to heartbreak, curanderos and curanderas (healers) have a holistic recipe for many ailments, and they aim to establish balance between the patient and their environment. Curanderos dedicate their lives to understanding this ancestral medicine. Most begin learning the spiritual practices and recipes from their elders as young children and continue this esteemed practice for life.
Curanderismo is a communal knowledge of many people and their rich cultures, passed down and revered as sacred. Due to European colonization of the Americas, the role of the curandero shifted from community healer, doctors, and psychiatrist to encapsulate Roman Catholicism in addition to traditional practices with the use of saints. Countries within Latinidad vary on their titles for curanderos and the remedios and methods used, but the sanctity of the practice remains the same across manmade borders.
For many of us native to South Texas who have indigenous roots, the barrio botánica is a place of reverence and healing, a modern storefront for curanderos to buy their herbas, incense, and other restorative items. It is a connection to our grandparents and elders who helped remedy our common colds or mal de ojo with herbal teas or baths, prayer, and amulets. The botánica is a place of wonderment and respect.
It is no surprise that many in San Antonio are incensed and offended by a group of local tech investors’ latest venture, a music festival they’ve called Botánica. In an effort to draw young professionals (i.e. privileged young people in tech with disposable income) to move to San Antonio and establish careers here, the Botánica group has decided a music festival is the best way to lure them. Music festivals arguably are great economy boosters, and help further local cultural development when they’re done correctly. Tech Bloc co-founder and CEO David Heard has mentioned the success of Austin’s festivals like Austin City Limits (ACL) and South by Southwest (SXSW) to sell what Botánica could offer to San Antonio.
The festival organizers’ faux pas is one done by most well-meaning privileged folks who fail to recognize their privileges and lack of context, thus disrespecting established communities. Similar to the bodega fiasco out of California (in which young tech bros released a business venture to put traditional, mom-and-pop bodegas, often owned by people of color, out of business with their self-reliant essentials shopping hubs), the theme of this music festival is a confusing and offensive title for many San Antonians who have been frequenting actual botánicas on the south and west sides of the city for years.
Prior to the news of the Botánica festival being publicly released, the Mayor’s office reached out to me and Rebel Mariposa, artivist and owner of local vegan eatery and bar La Botánica on the North St. Mary’s strip (where I currently work as a bartender). From its inception, La Botánica has served not only as a place to eat plant-based food rooted in traditional communal healing ideals, but also as a community space to organize for justice, plug in with politics, and enjoy or partake in art of all kinds. It is an authentic space by San Antonians for San Antonians through and through.
Juany Torres, a fellow native San Antonian and director of community engagement for Mayor Ron Nirenberg, coordinated a meeting between us and David Heard to discuss cultural appropriation related to our Mexican and indigenous cultures, use of the title in relation to Rebel’s established business, and the future of San Antonio for all communities, especially the most marginalized. It is an ongoing discussion that will hopefully result in more inclusivity and honest, action-oriented respect. As we expected at its public release, Rebel and I received much community outreach from those rightfully concerned that yet another mostly white, tech community venture has bastardized a core component of our culture.
In order to set itself apart from other popular and successful San Antonio music festivals such as Mala Luna or Maverick, Botánica should return to being authentic to its creators and their identities and cultures, instead of adopting a faux and shallow understanding of San Antonio’s rich Mexican-American and indigenous culture.
This is especially insulting considering those of us, whose culture is being used to sell to outside privileged techies, are still residing in some of the most historically segregated and undereducated parts of the city and state. Yes, music can be healing, but it should never be used as a vehicle to appropriate marginalized communities and sacred aspects of our culture in order to lure a new wave of colonization. A music festival with a theme like Botánica’s begs the larger question of repercussions of displacement and gentrification of the folks it is piggybacking its selling-point on.
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Beyond the obvious cultural appropriation concerns, the lack of sincerity on the Botánica group’s part for this to be a truly authentic San Antonian music festival is based on the absence of local acts and regional musical styles. DJ collectives like BrukOut! and Chulita Vinyl Club would be welcome additions with authentic San Antonio, Latinx sets and fan bases. Bands, singers, and performers like Bombasta, Volcán, Femina-X, Xavier Omar, Alyson Alonzo, Wayne Holtz, and Amea would only further showcase the depth and talent of the San Antonio music scene – one that has been trying to find its foothold on the national stage.
This path looks like one of true inclusivity, one where organizers and board members’ input is honest and reflective of the community and its authentic, established culture; where musical acts reflect our diverse music scene and feature local talents; where San Antonio’s established community is prioritized over whomever is being tempted to move here.
Hopefully we can all continue to ensure San Antonio receives the recognition and major music festival we are due, and do so in a way that is truly healing in many aspects for all involved.