Fiesta’s Return Proved San Antonio Still Knows How To Celebrate Culture
By Taryn Courville
Bryan Campa doesn’t attend Fiesta for the food or the alcohol, though he doesn’t begrudge people who do. To him, Fiesta is a chance to celebrate his culture.
Fiesta, a festival that lasts for 11 days during April, honors the Battle of the Alamo and Battle of San Jacinto and celebrates the Mexican-American and other cultures of San Antonio. A tradition for many locals, it also attracts visitors to San Antonio, putting the total number of Fiesta attendees at around 2.5 million most years. This year’s event, hosted from March 31 to April 10, was Fiesta’s return to its normal scale after the two previous years were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Campa first attended Fiesta when he was 10. Now, 15 years later, his sense of tradition and pride is as strong as ever. Campa can be spotted at events throughout the week donning his Fiesta vest. The vest catches eyes, its front and back entirely covered with the Fiesta medals, San Antonio’s equivalent of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras beads, he’s acquired from organizations through the years. He said he doesn’t mind when people stop him to admire it or ask questions. Rather, it’s amazing to him.
“I take pride in that vest because it’s culture. It’s what I grew up fond of,” Campa said. “I started to realize that this represents something. This represents us, and who we are as people.”
Pride permeates Fiesta. From collections of medals to flower crowns, people are eager to show off their appreciation for Mexican heritage. At any Fiesta event, there’s bound to be multiple people wearing vests or sashes with medals clipped on or towering hats with colorful decorations or traditional Mexican clothing.
Fiesta may be known for its food and alcohol, and it may be expensive and crowded, Campa said, but it’s a chance to try new things and meet people. Mexican culture might be predominant at Fiesta, but it’s not the only one celebrated. With events like A Night In Old San Antonio, or NIOSA, Fiesta attendees are able to experience and learn from the cultures all around the world that found their way to South Texas.
“It’s an opportunity for you to go and pretty much try new foods and also be proud of who you are and where you live. San Antonio is home,” Campa said. “I see a lot of diverse culture and a lot of people being themselves, and I think that’s very important, especially to teach younger generations to be proud of who you are.”
Even in 2020, when Fiesta was put on hold by the pandemic, Campa and his family found a way to celebrate, albeit on a smaller scale. It was simple, with his siblings and grandma, tacos and his prided vest, he said.
“One thing was for damn sure, we did do Fiesta [at home],” Campa said.
Another San Antonio native, Erica Brigham, said Fiesta has been a part of her life for a large chunk of it, for at least 20 years. As a kid she’d get excited for the parades and carnival, and now as an adult, she still gets excited when Fiesta comes around, but for different events and reasons.
“Now as an adult, I love of course the food, the drinks and the music,” Brigham said. “I think the music is the big part of it.”
Outside of attending events, Brigham brings the Fiesta spirit to other aspects of her life. Fiesta often falls around the Easter holiday, so the inside of her house is decorated for Easter, she said, but the outside is all Fiesta. Papel picado lines her fence and house, and instead of a wreath hanging from her door, a festive sombrero greets visitors.
Fiesta has been such a big part of her life, Brigham said, that she forgets it’s not celebrated elsewhere. She’s shocked when her husband asks family from out of town what they’re doing for Fiesta and they respond that they don’t celebrate, she said.
“It’s so crazy how the next city over doesn’t do Fiesta like San Antonio,” Brigham said. “Growing up, it was normal for us, and for some it’s not.”
Brigham thinks Fiesta is important, not only for the fun, but for the creativity that comes from the event, the chance for people to get together, and for its positive impact on the city. Fiesta is not only an opportunity to party, but also an avenue to raise money for the San Antonio community and stimulate the economy. The economic impact of Fiesta has been over $300 million in previous years according to the Fiesta website.
“I think it’s very nice how, the whole community, it just affects everybody in a good way,” Brigham said.
With the return of Fiesta to its normal scale, smiles were bountiful this year. Most were dressed up, even the dogs. Couples danced in front of the music stages, groups of friends took pictures together and others watched from the sides with drinks in hand. The sights were everything you’d expect at Fiesta.
“Going to Fiesta this year, it feels normal. It feels like COVID never happened,” Brigham said. “It’s like if nothing ever changed. It’s awesome.”