thIS IS WHO WE ARE
SOMOS includes all of us, and it’s a palindrome which reads the same backward as forward. Creating this new nonprofit organization was a little like the palindrome, we took some steps forward and then reflected backward at our life experiences.
In 2013 a group of friends hosted a “noche del rebozo” for Las Comadres, an informal network of Latinas who gather monthly to share events, activities, and resources. Merri Gutierrez, Becky Barrera, Aida Canales, Norma DeLeon, Nora Comstock, Gloria Uribe, and Carmen Tafolla planned an evening at Tres Rebecas Boutique and Librería to explore everything about rebozos. There was a room for learning how rebozos are made, another room for practicing all the ways to wear a rebozo, and yet another to delve into the cultural traditions of the rebozo while a display of rebozos captivated everyone. The evening was topped off by Carmen reading poetry from her new book “Rebozos”. Several of us had traveled together to Mexico and we wanted to share our excitement about what we had learned by visiting the artisans, not the tourist spots. Las Comadres brought covered dishes to share and loved every minute of the evening.
Within the year we were attracting more friends and experts to this concept of “group event planning” and pretty soon we were hosting fashion shows, building Día de muertos altars for the library, hosting Día de los niños celebrations, and pulling together activities for the San Antonio Book festival. Dozens of friends moved in and out of these activities, and all of us had the same goal, to work together to create culturally rich events that promoted understanding of our Latino history, culture, and heritage. As friends working together, we hoped to make our city a richer, more understanding place where all cultures can thrive. All of us were volunteers.
Sometimes our group grew from existing committees, such as the L3 Latino Leadership for the Library, headed up by Ellen Riojas Clark and Becky Barrera, who gathered all the Latino authors of San Antonio to sell and sign their books at the San Antonio Book Festival in 2013 and created a partnership with My Story (Sprocket Media Hub) and the Young Women’s Leadership Academy to interview and capture interviews with Latino authors.
Other times we joined forces with organizations such as the Pan American League led by Sylvia Ramirez Reyna and Margaret Mireles who wanted culturally rich fashion events for the annual Fiesta Olé. Award winning designers Lydia Lavín and Monserret Messeguer Lavín flew in from Mexico City to help members create ¡Viva Frida!, a fashion show at the Dominion Country Club.
It might have been the Revolutionary Threads Fashion show the following year at Fiesta Olé that the excitement of working together to create something special took root.
When “Las Soldaderas” stepped onto the stage, the connection to the audience was instant and evident from the loud cheers. We knew there was a longing to learn more about our history, our culture and our traditions and we would need to do something about it.
Perhaps Somos had its beginning with Henry Cisneros and the U.S.-Mexico Foundation trips to Chiapas, or the Tres Rebecas shopping trips to Mexico. Several of us had traveled together to Mexico and we wanted to share our excitement about what we had learned by visiting the artisans, not the tourist spots. We were trying to understand how Mexico’s history and culture fit with our Texas lifestyle.
As we learned, we also shared our San Antonio story in Mexico by presenting at the Segundo Encuentro de Rebozos at the Museo Franz Mayer in 2015. This was a turning point as there was no turning back once we told everyone what we were doing.
With the support of the San Antonio Public Library Foundation, the annual Día de muertos altar usually presented by the Latino Leadership for the Library (L3) grew from a small table display of books to a spectacular art installation featuring 300 years of San Antonio history with new stories and tributes to the many contributions of local citizens now departed. Mission San José’s rose window photographed by Joel Salcido, served as a backdrop for the altar, and also for the stories and legends in the Library’s Texana and Genealogy Department.
However it began, this desire to learn more about our roots and share what we know is the one connection all of us feel. We recognize that our culture and history were ignored in school when we were children and now as adults, we want something better for the next generation, so we incorporated as a non-profit organization in March 2019.
We offer to you, Somos cultura y más, a non-profit organization that belongs to all of us, every volunteer, expert, musician, artist, storyteller, dancer, crafter, teacher, student, organization or school that has given time and talent to bring about memorable experiences to our city. It belongs to all of us, porque SOMOS.