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Nearly everyone at the Alamo Tuesday morning was holding a T-shirt and poster screen printed with an image of Mission Concepción by local artist Cruz Ortiz. A mariachi band played energetic songs and with each gust of wind the sweet aroma of sage spread throughout the crowd of about 150 people. Spirits were high as Bexar County, City of San Antonio, and organizational leaders spoke in recognition of the July 5 World Heritage designation of the four Spanish colonial Missions and the Alamo – the first World Heritage site in Texas and 23rd in the U.S.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff started off the celebration by taking Mayor Ivy Taylor’s hand and shouting “Viva San Antonio!”
“This is a great day to celebrate our culture, our heritage, and the great historic structure of the Missions and the Alamo,” Wolff said.
Numerous individuals and organizations worked for almost a decade to develop a plan and application for the World Heritage inscription. About a dozen people spoke at the celebration, each expressing their gratitude for the people who helped make the designation possible.
“This has been a huge collaborative effort,” Mayor Ivy Taylor said.
Judge Wolff said more than 20 people attended the trip to Bonn, Germany for the conference where a 21-country committee granted the designation for the Missions and the Alamo.
“I’ve had a lot of good moments and bad moments in my political career but I’d have to say that was one of the very, very top ones,” Judge Wolff said.
“The moment when we received the designation was just beyond description,” Taylor said.
One of the first people Judge Wolff thanked on Tuesday was Paul Ringenbach, the principal writer and researcher for the 344-page World Heritage application.
Virginia Nicholas, the long-serving president of the Bexar County Historical Commission and the former president of the San Antonio Conservation Society initiated the idea for the Alamo and the Missions to become a World Heritage site.
“(Paul Ringenbach) was the one person who organized and maintained the good humor and perseverance to complete such a mammoth application,” Nicholas said.
U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-San Antonio) brought into context the importance of this designation by noting that the Alamo and the Missions will join the Grand Canyon, Statue of Liberty, Angkor Wat, and the Taj Majal as a World Heritage site.
“As a native of San Antonio, this is pretty exciting,” Hurd said.
San Antonio River Authority General Manager Suzanne Scott, a member of the delegation that traveled to Bonn, encouraged the crowd to take advantage of the close proximity of the Missions.
“We are among the most elite and respected sites in the world,” she said. “It is one thing for us to be proud of our Missions and our heritage but when 21 countries throughout the world are amazed by what we have here it makes you stand a little taller, smile a little brighter, and really bask in the glow of a prideful city.”
Fr. David Garcia, who led a $17 million fundraising effort to restore the four missions, said restoration never ends and he called on the crowd to help keep the Missions standing for another 300 years.
“These Missions are a gift from God and the way you deal with a gift is you receive it with gratitude and gratitude means we care for it, it’s not ours, we steward it, we take care of it and pass it to the next generation,” Fr. Garcia said.
But not all citizens were in Alamo Plaza on Tuesday morning to celebrate. A brief physical altercation broke out between Maria Torres, tribal chief of the Pacuache Tilijaya Coahuiltecan Tribe of Texas, and Gloria Pacheco Hernandez, of the Lipan Apache Mission Indians, who both claim ancestry from indigenous peoples that inhabited the site.
Torres has long advocated for more attention to be called to the historical aspects of the area beyond the Spanish-American history – that Alamo Plaza is a burial ground for indigenous peoples and should be treated with respect (i.e. no alcohol or events). She and others wanted more contextual information added to the application sent to the World Heritage Commission for consideration.
Hernandez was there to celebrate the event with her husband, Danny, who took part in the sage-burning ceremony. Torres held up a sign during the “San Antonio de Valero Mission Ater [sic] 1836 Indian Removal Act” in protest of the event. Hernandez pushed Torres far away from the ceremony, her words inaudible. SAPD Officers quickly diffused the situation without making any arrests and the ceremony concluded without further incident.
Judge Wolff said he will lead four bicycle rides from the Bexar County Courthouse along the Mission Reach to Mission Espada starting at 9 a.m. on July 24, Aug. 21, and Sept. 25.
“This is the initial celebration but we will even have a bigger party later on,” Mayor Taylor said.
UPDATE: A community-wide celebration and official inscription ceremony is tentatively planned for Saturday, Oct. 17. There will be several events leading up to the celebration, including an InstaMeet this Saturday, July 11 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. during which local officials and visitors can mingle, tag photos on Instagram, and enter the “Selfie Contest” for Six Flags Fiesta Texas tickets.