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The plight of the underrecognized city

San Antonio's 2008 version of "Luminaria," an arts and cultural festival, included a lighted Alamo featuring LEED-certified light bulbs on March 15, 2008. "Luminaria" includes storefront exhibitions, art lightings, alley galleries and numerous stages with theatre, dance and musical performances.  (PRNewsFoto/Darren Abate)

Buffalo and San Antonio, Tex. are 1,644 miles apart. San Antonio's population is five times the size of Buffalo's.Its culture, infused with Mexican influence, might seem a world apart from our own peculiar mix of affected Northeastern sophistication and genuine Midwestern folksiness.

But according to this wise, witty and passionate manifesto by San Antonio-based culture writer Sarah Fisch, these two distant cities have a great deal in common. For one thing: a crippling inferiority complex. For another: an underrecognized but genuinely stunning, economically and ethnically diverse cultural scene that would take several lifetimes to fully explore. For a third: deep and seemingly intractable problems with poverty and illiteracy, which in fact a large segment of that cultural scene is interested and invested in fixing.

"We are a semi-secretly fascinating city," Fisch writes of her beloved hometown in her post on the excellent pan-Texas visual arts blog Glasstire. As are we. I urge you to read Fisch's piece in its entirety. But if you only have time for three paragraphs, these ones, parts of which ought to send chills of recognition up the spines of devoted Buffalonians and expatriates, will do:

A friend of mine told me recently that a native San Antonian friend of hers, now living in Austin, referred to San Antonio as Austin’s fat poor dumb alcoholic older sister. I felt like I’d been slapped. If that’s what people from here think of us, then…? But some of my recoil arose from recognizing that I, partially and subconsciously, felt the same thing about us. Our high teenage pregnancy status, high poverty numbers, 25% illiteracy rate, they can get a writer down. As can our MEGA-EXTREME INSULARITY.

GOOD GOD, SAN ANTONIO. We are wayyyy too wrapped up in ourselves, as though we’ll just keep on defending the Alamo against interlopers forever. We’re suspicious of those recently arrived from California or the Midwest, dyed-in-the-plaid-wool ’09ers have never been to the neighborhood their cleaning lady lives in, Southtown artfolk decline to go farther North than Hildebrand. There are folks on the Westside who’ve never left Bexar County in their whole lives, while native San Antonians who can afford it venture forth for university or some other sophistication training, grab a mate and drag them bodily back to the 210, and then complain about the tourists clogging the Riverwalk.

As little attention as the outside world pays to us, seems like we could do a little more to make ourselves heard. We are the seventh largest city in the United States of America. We are one of the very largest majority-minority cities in a country whose demographics are changing rapidly. Three hundred years old, but we’re avant-garde, many decades before the American curve in terms of immigration, bilingualism, understanding the deeply American roots of Mexican-American culture, and the socioeconomic issues and effects of Mexican and Latin-American immigration. San Antonio’s fortunes have been forever tied closer to Mexico City than to Washington, D.C.

--Colin Dabkowski


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