The Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center lights up Market Street. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.
The Texas High School Coaches Association (THSCA) scheduled to take place this month has been cancelled. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

In a town known for its multicultural flair, the guests for San Antonio’s gala birthday party Thursday evening come representing some of the 16 countries from nearly every continent in the world here for Tricentennial Commemorative Week events.

As of Wednesday, 111 foreign delegates had confirmed attendance at the glitzy Founder’s Gala in the Stars at Night Ballroom of the Henry B. González Convention Center. The event is being chaired by Erika Prosper, wife of Mayor Ron Nirenberg, and Tracy Wolff, wife of Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff.

The visitors represent six of San Antonio’s 11 Sister Cities, Friendship Cities, as well as members of foreign consular and diplomatic corps of other countries.

The confirmed guest list for the gala includes delegations from Mexico, South Korea, Japan, China, and Germany. Members of the Spanish royal family also will attend.

San Antonio’s official Sister City relationships include Windhoek, Namibia; Monterrey and Guadalajara, Mexico; Las Palmas and Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain; Gwangju, South Korea; Kaohsiung, Taiwan; Kumamoto, Japan; Chennai, India; Darmstadt, Germany; and Wuxi, China.

President Geingob and his wife Monica Kalondo stand in front of The Alamo. Photo by Scott Ball.
President Hage Geingob of Namibia and his wife Monica Kalondo stand in front of the Alamo during their visit in 2015. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

San Antonio’s friendship cities, a less formal relationship between international municipalities, include Suzhou, China, and Tel Aviv, Israel.

“This is an opportunity to leverage the occasion, an important historical occasion, to bring everyone together and promote the San Antonio brand,” said Shahrzad Dowlatshahi, chief diplomacy and protocol officer and head of international relations in economic development for the City of San Antonio. “This is the one moment when you can have everybody there.”

In all, 1,300 local and international ticket holders are expected for the fundraiser gala, which has been in the works for four years. Invitations went out more than two years ago.

Sherry Dowlatshahi City of San Antonio's Chief Protocol Officer
Chief of Protocol and Head of International Relations Sherry Dowlatshahi.

Dowlatshahi’s office has been working with delegates from cities around the globe whose mayors or vice mayors, and their contingents, will be in San Antonio for the Founder’s Gala and other Tricentennial Commemorative Week events.

They will also attend a luncheon Thursday led by the Alamo Asian American Chamber of Commerce with other local chambers at The Witte Museum.

“That event will provide a platform of networking to allow for developing some relationships in [the business development] space,” Dowlatshahi said. “In the afternoon, for a targeted group and trade mission from Colombia, we are going on a tour at Port San Antonio to provide an overview of the cybersecurity industry sector … that we so much want to highlight internationally.”

At the Founder’s Gala, because the anniversary is about celebrating San Antonio, a menu designed by the RK Group will reflect flavors from the many cultural influences that exist in San Antonio, and the program itself will showcase the city’s history through key milestones.

“The construction of the program is going to feel so different,” said Vanessa Lacoss Hurd, deputy director of the Tricentennial Commission. “A lot of people have been to fundraisers in the past, but this one will be a much more meaningful event – it will be celebratory and also tell the story of our history in a powerful way.”

The evening begins with the gift of ensemble performances from the cities of Wuxi and Gwangju, before the start of a program presenting a chronological series of San Antonio’s milestones in history, told through performance and spoken word.

Opening in 1718 with a focus on indigenous peoples, the program will include a Four Directions Blessing and Eagle Dance delivered by Tehuan Band of Mission Indians, the American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions, and United San Antonio Pow Wow.

Former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro will introduce a segment on the San Antonio River, with former San Antonio Poet Laureate Carmen Tafolla’s reading of This River Here, a poem to be accompanied by a performance from San Antonio Dance Umbrella.

Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller will deliver a presentation on the Spanish Missions, and a traditional folk dance by the Guadalupe Dance Company will honor Canary Island settlers. State Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) will introduce a performance by the Aaron Prado Jazz Ensemble, Battle & Sacrifice at the Alamo.

San Antonio’s German heritage will be recognized in a presentation by Frost Bank President Pat Frost, and a performance by the Beethoven Männerchor. The city’s African-American culture will be presented through an introduction by former Mayor Ivy Taylor and a performance by the Mt. Zion First Baptist Church Mass Choir.

Beethoven Mäennerchor Dirigent David Nelson plays the accordion before the Hemisfair 50th Anniversary Announcement Press Event.
Beethoven Mäennerchor Conductor David Nelson plays the accordion at Hemisfair. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The program continues into the city’s modern era with a presentation on San Antonio radio and television, and the birth of Univision here, delivered by TV and film actor and San Antonio native Nicholas Gonzalez. A salute to Military City USA will be introduced by former Mayor Phil Hardberger and Spurs legend David Robinson.

Celina Moreno, Southwest regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, is set to speak on the evolution of Mexican-American civil rights in San Antonio, and former U.S. Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas) and author Sherry Kafka Wagner will share memories of HemisFair ’68.

At the conclusion of the program, representatives from the Sister Cities will present flags to the City of San Antonio, and Judge Wolff will give on the County’s behalf a gift to Spain’s Duke and Duchess of Béjar.

Following a rendition of Las Mañanitas sung by 16-year-old mariachi performer Sebastien de la Cruz, Nirenberg will be joined by former mayors Hardberger, Castro, Taylor, Ed Garza, and Lila Cockrell in a toast to the city.

Net proceeds of funds raised by the gala will go toward a gateway project at the San Antonio Missions, a UNESCO World Heritage site, that is intended to beautify the area and commemorate the Tricentennial.

“The Tricentennial celebration is an opportunity to both celebrate a city’s past but also plan for the future,” Hurd said. “A powerful legacy element [of the gala] is to raise money for a gift that will influence our city for years to come, and build on the natural resource in our wonderful Missions.”

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.