Hispanic American Heritage Month: A Tale of Two Parties
By Ashley Bean Thornton
September 15 through October 15 is National Hispanic American Heritage Month. This month of celebrating Hispanic culture was established in 1988, but this is the first year that I have taken the opportunity to enjoy some of the local festivities associated with it. So far I have been to two events.
One was the big “Fiestas Patrias” celebration at the Extraco Event Center. As I neared the event center I noticed the parking lot was packed and there was a line of cars waiting to get in. The floor of the arena looked like an ocean of people all having fun and enjoying a great night of music and mass togetherness. Congratulations to the folks who hosted this Fiesta! It was literally a “huge” success.
One of the first and most obvious ways to judge an event is number of participants. The automatic assumption is if it’s bigger, that’s better. Having a lot of people means you can afford flashy, expensive stuff – the hottest band, the lights, the smoke, the fireworks. As Waco grows we’ll have more of these kinds of events, and good for us, because they are really fun!
That brings me to the other event I have attended as part of my personal celebration of National Hispanic American Heritage Month. On September 16, I went to a wonderful gathering at the Centex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. September 16, as I’m sure you know, is Mexican Independence Day. The Hispanic Chamber, along with a group who is working to put together a Waco Hispanic Museum, hosted an event to commemorate The “Grito de Dolores.” I didn’t know what that was, but thanks to the wonders of Wikipedia, I was able to educate myself a little bit: “The Grito de Dolores (“Cry of Dolores”) was uttered from the small town of Dolores, near Guanajuato in Mexico, on September 16, 1810. It is the event that marks the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence. The “grito” was the pronunciamiento of the Mexican War of Independence by Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Roman Catholic priest.”
It was a small gathering. I think there were probably 12 or 15 of us. Our hosts, Alice and Joe Rodriguez, pulled a folding table into the front lobby of the Hispanic Chamber building on LaSalle. They covered it with red and green table cloths to match the Mexican flag and scattered mementos to commemorate the occasion – historical pictures of the Mexican American Community of Waco, a doll in traditional Mexican dress, a poster commemorating the heroes of the revolution. There was cake and Dr Pepper, and someone had made some delicious little cookies that tasted like shortbread with cinnamon and sugar.
Pretty soon we were snapping pictures and laughing together. Someone ran out to the car and grabbed a guitar and several folks joined in to sing a few songs. I got a narrated tour of a scrapbook full of memories. Most of the pictures were from the 70’s and 80’s, so I got to see several of my new friends in their younger days — darker, longer hair and much shorter shorts! Louis Garcia, Chairman of the Waco Hispanic Museum, read a history of the “Grito de Dolores.”
After the revolutionary history lesson, we settled into a different kind of history lesson – stories. I learned about how the September 16 celebration in Waco used to last four days. There would be parades and dances at the Mutualista Hall. Neighbors would enjoy snacks from the “puestos” (concession stands, food trucks). When the children got hot and sweaty they would take a dip in “La Pila,” the fountain that was the hub of the Calle Dos (Second Street) Mexican American community.
It’s easy to see that big events like the “Fiestas Patrias” celebration at the event center, or the recent Brad Paisley concert at Baylor, or even the Palm Sunday “Gathering” last year are important. They are exciting. They make a big splash. They give us all a shared experience. They bring good publicity to our city. I appreciate the people who put them on, and I look forward to more of them in the future.
I also want to say a big thank you to the folks in town who are hosting and organizing smaller events — the “Grito de Dolores” celebrations, the Waco Poets Society open mic nights, the Community Race Relations Coalition meetings – events where groups of 10 to 30 people gather. These smaller events help us get to know each other. They provide a time and place for building the kind of understanding that only comes from learning each other’s names and listening to each others’ stories.
The big gatherings help us wave our Waco flag proudly for everyone to see. In these small get-togethers we weave the cloth of our community, thread by thread.
Are you looking for ways to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage month? There are lots of things going on in Waco through the rest of September and on into November. For more information visit the ¡Viva Waco! website at www.creativewaco.org/vivawaco. If you are interested in learning more about the Waco Hispanic Museum or getting involved, please contact Louis Garcia by email at [email protected].
This Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton, the Manager of the www.www.actlocallywaco.org website and the editor of the Friday Update newsletter: The WHOLE Enchilada. The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.