Processing Art through Public Filters, Part One

UTSA Libraries Special Collections

UTSA Libraries Special Collections

When completed the Mission Drive‐in Theatre will serve as an icon for preservation and neighborhood re‐development….

The project goal is to complete the approved mural components of the Historic Mission Drive‐In Marquee in a way that follows recommendations of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Buildings, and stays consistent with the historic period….

…all viable methods of re‐creating the mural, sign lettering and lighting feature will be considered, provided that the completed work re‐creates the style, color and graphic quality of the original mural and components as closely as possible.

Public Art San Antonio, 2012 RFP

Historic Mission Drive-In Marquee Re-Creation

The resulting illumination of the marquee mural instantly makes the old Mission Drive-In Theatre a striking night-time landmark on the south side.

Public Art San Antonio

Public Art San Antonio

But there is something missing.

KENS-5 TV

KENS-5 TV

The new mural is soul-less, devoid of the human presence that characterized the original.

Instead of a re-creation, the design was sanitized following public protests in several contentious meetings.

A sombrero-porting Latino leading a donkey, a beast of burden sparing many a worker from debilitating back injuries, and one napping under a sombrero are both regarded as racial stereotyping.

I concede there was a time when many Anglos viewed such images and uttered the racial slur “lazy Mexicans.” Call me naïve, but I like to think we have moved beyond that point.

Sombrerería in Mexico City, Late 1800s, Underwood & Underwood stereoview card: "The ordinary sombreros are made of palm-leaves and straw, but those of the wealthier classes are of expensive felt, and may be white, gray, or maroon in color. They are often very ornate, being embroidered with the wearer's monogram, or designs of flowers, and faced with gold or silver lace. In Mexico, only the men wear hats, and they are a very valued  possession. Sometimes a man will invest his entire fortune of thirty or forty dollars in his sombrero. They are frequently of vast dimensions. The larger the sombrero, in fact, the greater its aesthetic value in the eye of the average Mexican. The flourish with which he doffs it in salute is something never to be forgotten by the unaccustomed foreigner."

Sombrerería in Mexico City, late 1800s, Underwood & Underwood stereoview card: “The ordinary sombreros are made of palm-leaves and straw, but those of the wealthier classes are of expensive felt, and may be white, gray, or maroon in color. They are often very ornate, being embroidered with the wearer’s monogram, or designs of flowers, and faced with gold or silver lace. In Mexico, only the men wear hats, and they are a very valued possession. Sometimes a man will invest his entire fortune of thirty or forty dollars in his sombrero. They are frequently of vast dimensions. The larger the sombrero, in fact, the greater its aesthetic value in the eye of the average Mexican. The flourish with which he doffs it in salute is something never to be forgotten by the unaccustomed foreigner.”

My hope is, rather than erase the existence of sombreros from our collective memory, we honorably embrace them as part of our heritage in San Antonio.

Here is why:

  • San Antonio was part of Mexico for longer than it has been part of the United States.
  • Mexicans who worked outside in the hot sun wore sombreros. They were smart.
  • The crown of a sombrero can be angled to follow the sun like a sunflower, shading both the face and the neck.
  • Hardworking people who rose long before the sun and worked until after it went down could use their sombreros for shelter while taking well-deserved naps.
  • People who sport gimme caps get red necks. No additional comment necessary.
mi sombrero guapo

mi sombrero guapo

I’m all for a sombrero resurgence. I’m doing my part.

Yes, I know this aging gringa looks foolish wearing her broad-brimmed caballera hat, complete with a horsetail-hair stampede string to hold it in place when the wind threatens to send it swirling.

But time has taught me a few things. I grew up on a beach trying to keep up with tan people. I merely burned and freckled. A slow learner, I repeated the process over and over, summer after summer.

I’m part of a freckled race that old Dr. Pipkin said had no business south of Ireland. But I hate cold and love hot sauce.

Because I was not wise enough to learn from experience, I had, what I told the Mister was in his honor, an upside-down, backwards “L” carved in my chest. But that “L” actually represents the third letter of melanoma.

I’m only telling you this so, when you see me wearing my caballera hat walking along the Mission Reach, you won’t make fun of me in front of me. My sombrero represents a self-preservation technique I learned from old postcards, from photos of men like those who used to grace the Mission Drive-In marquee.

san-antonio-market

And, yes, some of the postcards were condescending in tone. But the photos were of real people, real people living in San Antonio who wore sensible hats when going about their daily business.

At this latitude, the sombrero-toting figure appears the smart one. Having a red neck is no sign of intelligence; it’s just asking to be branded with one of those “L’s.”

If only I had one of those back-saving burros to port that case of two-buck Chuck up to the kitchen….

3 thoughts on “Processing Art through Public Filters, Part One

  1. Susan Frost says:

    Nice!

    Like

  2. Sarah says:

    HUZZAH! What are we going to do with all of our salt and pepper shakers and bookends? Have they quit selling sombreros at the Market? What about the mariachi? Do they have to quit wearing sombreros? What about Fiesta? I’m waiting for the day when they ban Tex-Mex and tell me I can’t say chingadera anymore.

    Like

  3. Gayle, I absolutely love this post. You hooked me with the Mission Drive-In, made me ponder sombrero stereotyping, and finished with a Two-buck Chuck reference. Thanks so much for the first smile of the day. All the best, Terri

    Like

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