Photo of Fiesta Noche del Rio folklorico dancer

12,000 years of culture shapes San Antonio

This article appeared in the June 2017 issue of RIO Magazine, the official magazine of the Paseo del Rio Association.


When Native Americans, the Payayan Indians, gathered around San Pedro Springs 12,000 years ago in their village they called Yanaguana, little did they know how many different cultures would one day call San Antonio home.

Texas Folklife Festival

Photo courtesy UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures
Photo courtesy UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures

The UTSA Institute of Texan Culture’s Folklife Festival blazed the trail for celebrating these dynamic ethnic groups in the summer of 1972. This annual event features more than 40 cultural organizations from across Texas who proudly share their culture’s food, music, dance, art and customs with attendees. Enjoy sampling Greek baklava, Scottish haggis and Belgian waffles. Learn the ancient game of Chinese Mah Jong, watch Polish dancers, get down to Cajun music, and take in Scottish/Irish bagpipes and drums.

The festival is one of the nation’s largest multi-cultural celebrations, embracing the many cultures that call the Lone Star State their home. These include Greek, Belgian, Native American, Wendish, Cajun, German, Scottish, Chinese, Spanish, Lebanese, Czech, Japanese, Indian and more.

The three-day, family-friendly event is an extension of what the Institute does all year long. So even if you are not lucky enough to be in San Antonio from June 9-11 for this year’s Folklife Festival, you may still enjoy UTSA’s Institute of Texan Cultures throughout the year.

Fiesta Noche del Rio

_3_ courtesy Alamo Kiwanis Club Charities Inc
Photo courtesy Alamo Kiwanis Club Charities, Inc.

Fiesta Noche del Rio is another summer tradition in San Antonio that serves up a lively dose of culture every Friday and Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. through August 12. Soak up the performing arts at the beautiful Arneson River Theatre that is nestled on the banks of the San Antonio River in historic La Villita. The hour and a half show features seven acts with one intermission.

This year’s family-friendly performances will take you on a virtual vacation via Spanish flamenco, Argentinian tango, romantic Latin music, Caribbean pop, Texas’ country, Mexican mariachi and folklorico dancers.

Spanish Flamenco Guitarist Alejandro Antonio is a crowd favorite. He teaches the audience how to do flamenco palmas (hand claps) in a question and answer format. Alejandro also plays the guitar while he does flamenco footwork, an incredible sight to see.

The Alamo Kiwanis Club has been staging Fiesta Noche del Rio since 1957 to raise money for charities that benefit children in San Antonio. Admission is $20 for adults; $15 for seniors, active and retired military, and groups of 10 or more; $8 for kids ages 6-14; and kids 6 and under are free. Over the past 60 years, more than $2.75 million collected has helped kids at the Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital, the YMCA, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Any Baby Can, The Children’s Shelter and more. So not only will you be enjoying a culturally rich night on the town, you’ll also be helping San Antonio’s children.

El Mercado/Market Square

Photo courtesy City of San Antonio City Center Development Office
Photo courtesy City of San Antonio’s City Center Development and Operations

Speaking of children, Father’s Day falls on June 18, and Historic Market Square is the perfect place to celebrate and shop for dad’s big day from noon to 6 p.m. on June 17 and 18.

Market Square, also known as El Mercado, is billed as the largest Mexican market outside of Mexico with more than 100 locally owned restaurants, shops and stalls housed on three city blocks. El Mercado, a favorite destination of locals, has been at this same location since the 1890s.

The Father’s Day celebration will include traditional Mexican food favorites, such as gorditas, tripas, funnel cakes, and aguas frescas. DJs and track singers (Saturday) and a live Blues band (Sunday) will give the entire family a good excuse to cut loose.

Cariño Cortez, the granddaughter of Mi Tierra Café y Panadería’s founders and a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef who runs Viva Villa, says her dad always worked on Father’s Day because Mi Tierra is 24/7/365. She would meet him at the restaurant for a meal and share the occasion with the many team members who were also fathers. Mi Tierra just celebrated its 75th year of giving San Antonio’s natives and visitors a taste of Mexico.

The DoSeum

Photo of The DoSeum's digiPlaySpace
Photo courtesy of Estudio Ruim via The DoSeum

Since the prevailing culture of the 21st century is a digital culture, The DoSeum’s Summer of Tech is just the thing for those who’d like for their kids to become the next Steve Jobs, Sheryl Sandberg or Mark Zuckerberg.

In the award-winning digiPlaySpace, children (and parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles) will be able to experience a virtual world, create a painting from their movements, learn about stop-motion animation, and fabricate something high-tech in The DoSeum’s maker space.

A Kids Coding Challenge will also take place, giving kids the zeros and ones they need to thrive in this digital age. Attendees will learn how to create mobile apps, multimedia, games, websites and robotics.

Summer Camps for kids interested in science, technology, engineering and math are also available at The DoSeum. Robotics, civil engineering, 3D printing, transportation and more will provide campers with 21st century tools so that they can learn how to use technology to have a positive impact on their community.

Denise Barkis Richter, Ph.D., author of “100 Things To Do in San Antonio Before You Die,” has been blogging about San Antonio at since June of 2010. Her love affair with the Alamo City began at HemisFair in 1968. Denise credits her father, Art, for her love of reading, writing, storytelling and travel.

For even more ideas of fun things to do and see in San Antonio, visit Barnes & Noble, The Twig, Whole Foods, Half Price Books on 410 across from North Star Mall and on Broadway near downtown, San Antonio Museum of Art gift store, and Fiesta on Main to purchase “100 Things To Do in San Antonio Before You Die” by yours truly.

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