My family and I relocated from Philadelphia to the Lone Star state in the early 1990s when I was just a boy. I can recall driving around the hills of our Northwest neighborhood located between Oliver Wendell Holmes and Thomas Jefferson high school.
“What’s with all the palm trees? Are we in Hawaii? I thought we moved to Texas,” I asked, interrogating my parents on my new surroundings. It’s been 20 years since that first summer and I’ve resided in this South Texas town – for the most part – ever since.
From the onset, we were immersed in Mexican-American Catholic culture; playing organized sports for Catholic Youth Organization, family gatherings at a local Mexican restaurant after church, raising funds for school through BBQ plate sales. My early memories of the city include chasing my brother and sister around Market Square (or El Mercado), reading youth fiction in book club meetings at the Central Library, and feeding the ducks along the banks of Woodlawn Lake on Sunday afternoons.
Throughout high school I frequented quinceañeras and school-sponsored social dances where I was exposed to breakdancing. I teamed up with a local urban dance troupe after graduating high school, flexing my skills at exhibitions and competitions in California, New York, and all across Texas. We came to know it as b-boying, intrigued by the origins of hip-hop culture born in the boroughs of New York City. We took pride in our small-town scene – isolated, yet burgeoning with creativity.
Yet with all the history and culture to hold my captivation, the urge was building for me to get out and try something new.
Many high school classmates and dance crew members were leaving to pursue careers out-of-state.
So I packed a suitcase and a duffel bag, made my way downtown to the corner of East Pecan & N. St. Mary’s Streets and bought a one-way Greyhound bus ticket to Houston.
My plans didn’t quite work out in chasing the allure of the big city life, but I was able to do some serious soul-searching in the Bayou City.
I returned to San Antonio in 2008, but still wasn’t convinced that this city was the place for me.
Turning the Beat Around
My friends began to show me that with my years of experience serving community-based organizations how much I was to contributing to the cultural arts. I was also a volunteer DJ with Trinity University’s KRTU 91.7 FM at this time. I realized I was a part of a network of talented individuals, all striving to make San Antonio a better place for our communities through music, through art, through culture.
I set a goal for myself: redirect my energy to staying in San Antonio, immerse myself in the history of this city, and get a better grasp of the social, political, and economic issues affecting and shaping San Antonio.
In surveying the story of San Antonio, I fell in love with this city. I fell in love with the beautiful struggle that is present in the everyday lives of its citizens. I’ve embraced all aspects of its rich and turbulent history.
The impact of Emma Tenayuca’s pecan sheller strike in the 1930s continues to resonate in Westside communities. The political domination of the Good Government League and the restitution enacted by Community Organized for Public Service (COPS) illustrate the turmoil between suburban sprawl and the role of government acting a public steward in addressing the rights to civic benefits for all.
As a DJ I engaged in the booking and organizing process with music venues and nightclubs, establishing residency in 2011 at Tucker’s Kozy Korner alongside fellow disc jockey JJ Lopez, spinning an eclectic mix of soul, funk, and jazz on vinyl. We’ve dubbed our night The Soul Spot.
Little did I know that I would meet the love of my life, Melissa Zarb-Cousin, on the dance floor. We tied the knot earlier this year at the Arneson River Theatre with the reception at Plaza Nacional in La Villita.
As a theatre actress, her work at the Magik Theatre and other theatrical venues around town has developed my appreciation for live performance and musical theatre. Her resilient passion inspired me to audition and ultimately land a lead role-playing the character of Lysander for this year’s production of Shakespeare in the Park: A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
I rediscovered the King William, Southtown, and Lavaca neighborhoods. I witnessed the explosion of the cocktail and restaurant scene in the inner city area. Cyclists and craft beer now seem to ride hand-in-hand – I’m a patron of riding along the Mission Reach and enjoying a brew on the outdoor patio of the Friendly Spot Ice House. We continue to experience an influx of creative and motivated individuals with the ambition of changing San Antonio for the better, welcoming them with open arms.
With the city’s tri-centennial celebration just around the corner, we can look back and examine the rich history that has proven San Antonio as an extraordinary American city – from the missions of Spanish conquest to the post-WWII music fusion known as Chicano Soul and so much more.
San Antonio in the 21st Century
When we assimilate into the dominant or mainstream culture, we can tend to lose touch with our ethnic identity that defines our uniqueness as Americans and by reclaiming our history we can reinvigorate the heritage of our communities as the 21st Century unfolds.
If you grew up with the crime-fighting reality TV shows in the ‘90s you’ll remember the phrase “the suspect is at large” blaring over the airwaves of the CB radios in squad cars. I’ve aptly titled my blog Community at Large: Revisiting Culture in the 21st Century, documenting the evolving urban social landscape. My goal is to connect these communities, at large, through culture, to spark interest of social progress between individuals of all ages, of all backgrounds.
As a fan of broadcast radio journalism, I believe that giving a voice to the people creates a sense of self-empowerment, hence posting the audio footage of the interviews I conduct. The blog’s format melds narrative and interviewees’ voices. Many individuals contribute to a collective voice.
My love of San Antonio unfolds through its people, music, expression, food, dance, and recreation. You can feel the buzz of momentum in forging a new direction for the future of this city and the excitement is palpable.
Rene Jaime Gonzalez is currently pursuing an Associate’s degree in Public Administration at San Antonio College. He holds DJ residency at the historic Tucker’s Kozy Korner, just east of downtown on Houston street. Last year NPR Cities published his submission to the “Sound of Your City” project. You can follow his efforts documenting community life in SA through his blog and soundcloud page.