Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
You have 20 seconds per 20 slides. Now, make an impression.
It doesn't have to be your best impression, but maybe it's your most honest. Or one that summarizes your passion or knowledge. Maybe it's just something you've been wanting to say publicly for ages, but whatever it is – you have to make an impression.
Making an impression is what the eight presenters who took the stage for Tuesday night's Pechakucha San Antonio Vol. 25 set out to do.
And they succeeded.
The crowd's reactions were as mixed as the presentations themselves. But one common theme subtly persisted throughout the evening at the packed Pearl Stable.
"Welcome to fake news," said News 4 San Antonio anchor Randy Beamer as he opened the event – and the theme was set.
PechaKucha, an oddly named event, has been around for 14 years and takes place in more than 900 cities worldwide. San Antonio's edition launched in 2011 and has been a crowd-pleaser ever since. In fact, event organizers initially worried that they wouldn't be able to fit everyone into the building.
As Beamer introduced the event's sponsors, the night's overall tone started to take shape. When he read the name of Giles Parscale, the local web design, marketing, and branding firm responsible for designing the campaign websites of President Donald Trump and Mayor Ivy Taylor, the Stable fell awkwardly silent. When Beamer referred to the San Antonio Current and the Rivard Report as "real news," the majority of the more than 550-person crowd whooped and hollered.
These are interesting times we're living in, folks.
Doc Watkins, musician, composer, and owner of Jazz, TX, fit more pertinent words into the six minutes and 40 seconds each speaker was allotted than any other presenter. He was on a mission to dissect the meaning of entertainment. Entertainment is everywhere, he said, but is it good? Is it bad? During his college years, Watkins saw entertainment as the antithesis of art. While art dealt with love, death, pain, philosophy, awareness, and the senses, entertainment simply numbed the pain of everyday existence.
As he grew older (and inevitably wiser), the artist embarked on a mission of redefining, recapturing, and re-dignifying the word "entertainment" through his successful live music venture, Jazz, TX. His forté – arranging, composing, and playing music – had to take a back seat as he contemplated the architecture, decoration, food, drinks, people, and many other layers that have turned his jazz club into a multi-dimensional source of entertainment.
"Ideas take time to do well," he said, acknowledging that patience is a virtue and that it's okay to change your mind.
Elise Urrutia told the story of a magnificent garden that sat on what was the far-northern edge of San Antonio more than 100 years ago. Miraflores, located on Hildebrand Avenue adjacent to the University of the Incarnate Word, would have far more than 20 slides to fill if it could talk.
Urrutia delivered the most educational, historical, and nostalgic presentation of the night as she told tales of her great-grandfather, Dr. Aureliano Urrutia, a respected Mexican surgeon who was exiled to the United States in 1914. Dr. Urrutia built the Gardens at Miraflores and filled it with fascinating art, sculptures, plants, and people.
"I'd venture to say there's not another place like it in the world," Elise Urrutia said of the garden that hosted the banquet for the Majestic Theatre's grand opening in 1929 and embodied her ancestor's impression of Mexico's diversity and layers of culture. Although it changed hands five times before the City purchased it in 2006, the property maintains a degree of mysticism and magic – not to mention potential for a city that is heavily investing in its unique assets.
Trinity University sophomore and director of business operations at The Contemporary, Zabdi Salazar shared with the crowd tidbits of her upbringing in a Mexican-American family of eight. The 19-year-old's parents own and operate a party rental store that the entire family tirelessly participates in.
Except for on Feb. 16, the "Day Without Immigrants," during which the Salazars' business stayed closed to protest Trump's executive orders and show solidarity with immigrants across the globe. If pressed to name one positive that's emerged from the new administration, Salazar would likely cite her family business' profits on Trump piñatas, which have been record-breaking, she said.
Salazar, a political science and business administration double major who listed former Councilwoman Maria Berriozábal as an inspiration to pursue a graduate or law degree, received a standing ovation.
"Soooo, are you going to announce your candidacy right now?" Beamer asked her.
San Antonio Express-News investigative reporter John Tedesco described himself simply: "I'm the enemy of the American people."
"These days, Americans can't seem to agree on basic facts," he said, drawing chuckles from the audience.
The news media conspiracy Trump so often cites, Tedesco said, isn't real – "Trust me, we are not that organized." Instead, his own interpretation – and one he would like readers, listeners, and viewers to take seriously – is that journalists "find stuff out and share it with people."
Sure, reporters make mistakes, but that's an integral part of the bigger picture. Humans make mistakes, period. But despite our flaws and imperfections, we always have the chance to explain ourselves and correct our blunders. Maybe we all need to do a better job of explaining things.
"People cool off when you explain yourself," said Tedesco, who has been "in love with the truth business" ever since he did a "terrible, awful, crappy job" writing his first investigative story about overpriced cafeteria food when he was an undergrad at UIW. Facts are powerful, Tedesco concluded.
A well deserved beer break followed the first half of the presentations. People enjoyed Old Fashioneds and strawberry daiquiris, shrimp bites, and most importantly, good conversation.
The woman who had the crowd roaring with laughter at PK 24 – "Women are not excited by non-fat key lime pie yogurt commercials" – resumed the role of emcee after Beamer said his goodbyes and made his way to the downtown WOAI studios for his "real job." Pearl Chief Marketing Officer Elizabeth Fauerso commended those involved in the evening's festivities – the presenters, the PK staff, the many volunteers, and the audience.
"This is how we are gonna get through this: by listening to one another and by sharing what's important to us." And by "this" she meant the political climate that Tedesco had earlier said "could not get any worse."
Christian Reed-Ogba and her husband Uche Ogba steered the crowd's mood in an entirely different direction. The upbeat couple, who founded BethanyEast PR and together built campaigns for numerous big business players here in town, met on Twitter and recently celebrated their five-year wedding anniversary. They chronicled their story about life and love the way tech-savvy young adults do: with witty quotes, hashtags, tweets, emojis, and high-res images.
"We love bridges," Reed-Ogba said after a picture of the Hays Street Bridge slid across the screen, "but have you ever noticed how bridges are never the final destination? That's because they are used to overcome boundaries."
There it was again: that unrelenting notion that our differences, though they often cause friction, should not be hindrances to a thriving society.
"This little, big town has a large traffic jam of people who are about to introduce themselves," she added, displaying full faith in the fact that San Antonio has far from exhausted the human potential of those who will "always remember the love."
"Giving back is good," said William Richardson, physical therapist and program director of Work Out Help Out, "but why don't most people?" Time and financial constraints are two of the most cited reasons; "boring" is another. That's why Richardson and his teammates at WOHO decided to combine physical and philanthropic activities to form an agency that makes giving back more fun and more accessible.
"Personal choices shape a bigger picture," he said, and programs that create unification are what is needed now. "Act instead of casting opinions. Be nice to people." Doing things for other people improves both your physical and mental health, the doctor added, and even he couldn't help but mention a gentleman who is better known for his abrasive verbiage than his leadership skills.
From fitness to food: Geronimo Lopez, executive chef of BOTIKA, knew he wanted to be a cook when he was a young boy growing up in Venezuela. So he cooked and surfed, and traveled and cooked, and explored the various facets of cultures in Oaxaca, Lima, Hawaii, and Paris.
One thing he learned? "The lines are crossed, we share things," he said. "Caracas has the some of the largest synagogues, mosques, and Christian churches in the world."
The sharing of things manifests itself in Lopez's food, which he describes as Chifa-Nikkei or Chino Latino, and the fresh ingredients with which he creates flavor.
"Limes, avocados, mangoes – how sad would life be without them?" he asked.
Lopez's last slide of the night was a picture of him and his wife in front of the Berlin Wall, "but there's no wall," he said, and the audience cheered loudly.
Daniela Riojas – artist, performer, photographer, videographer, and musician – tied the evening together with heartfelt thoughts on her recent visit to Standing Rock: she likened her own struggles growing up to those of the indigenous people fighting to protect their sacred land. "We're all indigenous, we're all immigrants," she said, and the crowd audibly agreed.
Riojas shared video clips and still images of her work, most notably "Dysplacia: Documenting the Undocumented," a series of portraits she took following the passing of Senate Bill 1070 in Arizona in 2016, and one that today is more relevant than ever.
"We need to get past the border mentality ... we need a change of consciousness ... we need open hearts and open spirits ... we need to access our humanity and learn from it," she said.
PechaKucha Vol. 26 will take place at Rosedale Park on May 30.