San Antonio on Parade
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Cities, like people, may be best known by the way they party. For nearly a century-and-a-half, San Antonio has partied well. In this fascinating look at late-nineteenth-century festivals in San Antonio, Judith Berg Sobré brings an art historian's sensibility to accounts of the pageantry, parades, and festive events that typified a city welcoming settlers from several nations and American regions into a community that valued their individuality even while it taught them a new identity. Six historic festivals provide windows into the culture of this polyglot city: the Fourth of July, Juneteenth, Diez y Seis, Columbus Day, the German Volksfests, and the Battle of the Flowers. Each of these events feature a parade through the downtown streets and plazas followed by a celebration—sometimes lasting several days—in a city park. The festival allowed its sponsors to showcase the language, foods, costumes, and dances of their homeland while still identifying themselves as patriotic supporters of their new country. Sobré demonstrates how the patriotic and ethnic festivals of the era served the “melting pot,” allowing simultaneous celebration of the cultures of origin and the American culture. She describes the festivals vividly, and more than fifty photographs illustrate the activity and fun of the events. Moreover, Sobré traces the evolution of the individual celebrations to show how they reflected the growth and maturing of the city and how ultimately they changed as American identity became less inclusive and more chauvinistic. She draws on contemporary writings, especially newspaper accounts, and pictures to form impressions and inform understandings of the conduct and function of civic celebrations. The result is a delightful picture of a city and an era at play—a city and an era that would soon find less reason to play and less ability to nurture and celebrate diversity.