Heritage Airlines, Now Boarding for San Antonio
The sky was especially blue the morning I left my home in Lenexa, Kansas to visit San Antonio. I gave a kiss to my wife and 4 month old baby feeling that ever constant tug back to stay home with them for eternity. But my mission was clear and I had to leave. I remember my uber driver, a former refugee from Kenya, driving to my airport and keenly curious about what was taking me to visit South Texas. Although I was more interested about his incredible journey to America (and trust me it was) I reluctantly offered him a small glimpse of my upcoming plans to film an episode of my transformational travel documentary aimed at preserving the cultural heritage of the Coahuiltecan people, the Spanish, and San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. All of this was to be connected by the incredible natural heritage of the mysterious and sacred San Antonio River.
Checking in the bag went smoother than expected and I had plenty of time before boarding the flight. A last minute seat change landed me serendipitously next to a Tejana woman named Camille. We talked politely about our children and how her husband, Erik, and I were both of Cuban background. Again, the question came up about the purpose of my travels. Slightly embarrassed but nervously excited I shared a little bit about the research I had been doing and the significance of the mestizo people in the development of the Missions in San Antonio, through the agricultural lands in Floresville, the birthplace of ranching in Goliad, and the origin of the story in Coahuila, Mexico. I saw Camille’s eyes light up a bit. She then drew back and had a pensive self-reflective moment that she later admitted was about her own sense of self, her displacement from her culture, and the importance of belonging.
After talking a little more about heritage, LatinX identity, and what it was like for her growing up in San Antonio as part of a multi-generational family she gave me some recommendations of things to do and restaurants to eat at while I was there waiting for the film crew to arrive later that evening. I gladly welcomed her suggestions into my cell phone’s text message inbox and we parted ways with a hug. She on her journey, and I on mine.
Walking through the intimate airport in San Antonio, I could sense the heat from the environment trying to make its way into the air conditioned lounges to take a break. It was that hot! I picked up my rental car from a Turo user who also happened to be named Erik. Eerie coincidence or synchronicity? I guess it all depends on the meaning you choose to put behind it. I drove through the city streets in my Jeep Grand Cherokee aiming to visit the first suggestion Camille gave me – Mi Tierra. Of course the journey to a destination for a transformational traveler hardly ever follows a straight line. As I juggled following the GPS on the on board display, receiving text messages, and my anxiety I spotted a large beautiful structure that reminded me of the Seattle space needle from my travels to the Pacific Northwest when I was documenting the sustainable communities near Olympic National Park and the Hoh Rainforest.
Inspired, I pulled my jeep over, parked it, and snapped the camera out of its carrying bag. I’ve always been an artist for as long as I can remember – taking photos, painting, singing, songwriting, playing instruments, writing poetry and generally experiencing the world in a much more exhaustingly profound way than I’ve been told is really necessary. I stepped onto the scorching asphalt of the parking lot in front of the structure and took my first picture.
After taking a few pictures of what I later came to learn was the Tower of the Americas (and a few cute Razor scooters with baskets) I navigated onwards led only by the overwhelming desire to neutralize the roaring of my hunger. I arrived to Produce Street near Downtown where I was welcomed by a colorful collection of festive Mexican flags dancing overhead with those fashionable string lights that everyone is starting to put on their home terraces. I assumed that I was there at the wrong time because the entire walkway that reminded me of a small cobblestoned street in a small town in Mexico was empty like un Pueblo de Fantasmas.
The sign of Mi Tierra popped out halfway from the door with a grinning Mariachi that I was unsure if was attempting to be authentic or ironic. I opened the door and found that the vacancy of the streets was juxtaposed intensely with a bustling cultural explosion of people, food, waiter, mariachi singers, vibrant historical murals and funeral alters dedicated both to the Virgin Mary and the Tex-Mex singer Selena. I followed the golden pinatas floating overhead to a backroom composed of what appeared to be only local latinos eating with their multi-generational families. Abuelas holding their Nietos on their laps while Mama sipped on juices accompanied by chiles rellenos, refried beans, corn tortillas, and guacamole. After ordering something that they called el Plato Especial and giving into the waitresses recommendation for an award winning tequila margarita, I paid the check, left an intentional tip and stood up to go find the San Antonio River.
I had learned 3 months ago in my research that the Coahuiltecan indigenous culture were river people and as such have been documented to have lived sustainably alongside the San Antonio River for over 12,000 years. While the beginning of the river starts in a place called the Blue Hole, my expedition originated on Commerce Street where I walked down a series of steps to find the statue of San Anthony de Padua, the city’s namesake.
I wanted to take some pictures of the many famed bridges along the river so I indulged in one of my guiltiest pleasures and took a kitschy touristy boat ride with one of those punny travel guides. My expectations were gratuitously fulfilled by Captain Dave as he took me and what seemed to be a boat full of Asian visitors down the winding turns of the river lined with restaurants, theaters, and hotels. The saving grace was the the incredibly light hearted poise he balanced between his performance of bad jokes and meticulous historical facts. While the bridges and commercial pit stops seemed to be the focus of his material, it was the art installation, the plant and animals, and the live stage where a hipster duo of musicians singing an acoustic version of Jolene by Dolly Parton that were the stars of the show.
What happened next you would not believe…