Sana, Sana, San Antonio: A Music Festival Theme That Misses the Mark

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A man explores the candle offerings of Botanica Obadina.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

A man explores the candle offerings of Botánica Obadina.

For underserved and marginalized Black and Latinx communities, who have not been able to afford modern Western health care, alternative traditional remedies, concoctions, and energy work have served to remedy afflictions for generations.

From high fevers to heartbreak, curanderos and curanderas (healers) have a holistic recipe for many ailments, and they aim to establish balance between the patient and their environment. Curanderos dedicate their lives to understanding this ancestral medicine. Most begin learning the spiritual practices and recipes from their elders as young children and continue this esteemed practice for life.

Curanderismo is a communal knowledge of many people and their rich cultures, passed down and revered as sacred. Due to European colonization of the Americas, the role of the curandero shifted from community healer, doctors, and psychiatrist to encapsulate Roman Catholicism in addition to traditional practices with the use of saints. Countries within Latinidad vary on their titles for curanderos and the remedios and methods used, but the sanctity of the practice remains the same across manmade borders.

For many of us native to South Texas who have indigenous roots, the barrio botánica is a place of reverence and healing, a modern storefront for curanderos to buy their herbas, incense, and other restorative items. It is a connection to our grandparents and elders who helped remedy our common colds or mal de ojo with herbal teas or baths, prayer, and amulets. The botánica is a place of wonderment and respect.

It is no surprise that many in San Antonio are incensed and offended by a group of local tech investors’ latest venture, a music festival they’ve called Botánica. In an effort to draw young professionals (i.e. privileged young people in tech with disposable income) to move to San Antonio and establish careers here, the Botánica group has decided a music festival is the best way to lure them. Music festivals arguably are great economy boosters, and help further local cultural development when they’re done correctly. Tech Bloc co-founder and CEO David Heard has mentioned the success of Austin’s festivals like Austin City Limits (ACL) and South by Southwest (SXSW) to sell what Botánica could offer to San Antonio.

The festival organizers’ faux pas is one done by most well-meaning privileged folks who fail to recognize their privileges and lack of context, thus disrespecting established communities. Similar to the bodega fiasco out of California (in which young tech bros released a business venture to put traditional, mom-and-pop bodegas, often owned by people of color, out of business with their self-reliant essentials shopping hubs), the theme of this music festival is a confusing and offensive title for many San Antonians who have been frequenting actual botánicas on the south and west sides of the city for years.

Prior to the news of the Botánica festival being publicly released, the Mayor’s office reached out to me and Rebel Mariposa, artivist and owner of local vegan eatery and bar La Botánica on the North St. Mary’s strip (where I currently work as a bartender). From its inception, La Botánica has served not only as a place to eat plant-based food rooted in traditional communal healing ideals, but also as a community space to organize for justice, plug in with politics, and enjoy or partake in art of all kinds. It is an authentic space by San Antonians for San Antonians through and through.

Botanica Obadina contains candles, herbs, and spiritual items.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Botánica Obadina offers candles, herbs, and spiritual items.

Juany Torres, a fellow native San Antonian and director of community engagement for Mayor Ron Nirenberg, coordinated a meeting between us and David Heard to discuss cultural appropriation related to our Mexican and indigenous cultures, use of the title in relation to Rebel’s established business, and the future of San Antonio for all communities, especially the most marginalized. It is an ongoing discussion that will hopefully result in more inclusivity and honest, action-oriented respect. As we expected at its public release, Rebel and I received much community outreach from those rightfully concerned that yet another mostly white, tech community venture has bastardized a core component of our culture.

In order to set itself apart from other popular and successful San Antonio music festivals such as Mala Luna or Maverick, Botánica should return to being authentic to its creators and their identities and cultures, instead of adopting a faux and shallow understanding of San Antonio’s rich Mexican-American and indigenous culture.

This is especially insulting considering those of us, whose culture is being used to sell to outside privileged techies, are still residing in some of the most historically segregated and undereducated parts of the city and state. Yes, music can be healing, but it should never be used as a vehicle to appropriate marginalized communities and sacred aspects of our culture in order to lure a new wave of colonization. A music festival with a theme like Botánica’s begs the larger question of repercussions of displacement and gentrification of the folks it is piggybacking its selling-point on.

Beyond the obvious cultural appropriation concerns, the lack of sincerity on the Botánica group’s part for this to be a truly authentic San Antonian music festival is based on the absence of local acts and regional musical styles. DJ collectives like BrukOut! and Chulita Vinyl Club would be welcome additions with authentic San Antonio, Latinx sets and fan bases. Bands, singers, and performers like Bombasta, Volcán, Femina-X, Xavier Omar, Alyson Alonzo, Wayne Holtz, and Amea would only further showcase the depth and talent of the San Antonio music scene – one that has been trying to find its foothold on the national stage.

This path looks like one of true inclusivity, one where organizers and board members’ input is honest and reflective of the community and its authentic, established culture; where musical acts reflect our diverse music scene and feature local talents; where San Antonio’s established community is prioritized over whomever is being tempted to move here.

Hopefully we can all continue to ensure San Antonio receives the recognition and major music festival we are due, and do so in a way that is truly healing in many aspects for all involved.


32 thoughts on “Sana, Sana, San Antonio: A Music Festival Theme That Misses the Mark

  1. Didn’t San Antonio try a Latinx music festival that was supposed to become as successful as Essence in New Orleans and failed? When I read the original plans for the new festival, my first thought was, “Why did they give it a Spanish name when they seem to be wanting a nationally recognized festival that emphasizes mainstream music?” I think the name will be a hindrance for the success of the stated goal of the festival in contrast to this author’s idea that the festival should change its goals because of the name that was chosen.

  2. Thank you for this article. I read about the festival a couple days ago and wondered at the name, wondered why they’d choose Botanica as the name of a music festival, even one that featured Latinx groups. At the very least, it doesn’t make any sense (white folk not knowing what a botanica is or its role in the culture); at the very worst, it’s cultural appropriation (white folk knowing full well what a botanica is and its role in the culture, and deciding to use the name anyway because it sounds “ethnic” or “cool” or whatever). (Also, before I get attacked, I’m white folk myself. 🙂 )

  3. Good column on range of fair issues to put on the table, with great background explanations. Small thing, but should disclose employment at La Botanica.

  4. To be solution oriented around Dana’s core argument around educational attainment maybe the music festival can setup some of the proceeds to go to underserved educational areas in San Antonio. Or setup a donation booth at the festival where people can contribute to that cause.

    • @andrew velis I feel like giving donations to the communities being exploited completely misses the mark. It also ignores the fact that theses areas are not poor on accident, but as a result of decades of government sponsored segregation and racism through discriminatory housing and educational policies. These communities deserve more than our crumbs and half-hearted efforts, they deserve justice.

  5. It looks like the festival organizers reached out to Ileana Gonzales who currently works with the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders and is originally from Guadalajara–to come up with the name. Though the festival is underwritten by the tired archetype of wealthy white men from the technology sector, it appears that there was due diligence and community outreach on the part of Gonzales, who is credited with developing the name and brand for the festival.

    • Thanks for your feedback.

      While the input of Ileana Gonzales is definitely important and a good step, I wouldn’t consider the perspective of one person (no matter their affiliations) “due diligence.” Maybe a city-wide vote and input would’ve been a more fair option if their branding is based on San Antonio as a cultural experience.

    • A number of such “national” or otherwise “Latino” orgs are underwritten for the sole purpose of legitimizing the commodification of cultural resources. Just because an org exists doesn’t make it legit.

  6. This article is VERY suspect. I smell a weird bias that negates the whole article. Summary: Foul on “privileged” LOCAL tech guys for choosing the name Botanica – headlined by Major Lazer, Deftones, Logic, Alessia Cara (Considered offensive by author). Then praises Mala Luna (owned by an out of towner Jewish UT grad) – headlined by questionably native acts like idk lets see – Future, Lil Wayne, Wiz Khalifa, and a guy named Smoke Purpp. Also praises the Maverick Fest flop. LMFAO!!!! I’m hitting that “DONATE NOW” button right now to make a donation to Rivard Report to hire credible writers.

    • Hi Romero,

      The focus of the piece is TechBloc culturally appropriating sacred Latinx culture – which is outlined in the opening for clarity. I don’t consider the acts they already have as “offensive,” I’m suggesting they add more representative local talent to this lineup. I am not necessarily praising Mala Luna either, and have been vocal to their rep here about their pitfalls. I called these ventures “popular and successful” because they are – by buzz, ticket sales, etc. Mala Luna never was an attempt to brand a festival based on a shallow understanding of San Antonio culture, the way Botanica has framed itself as. Maverick Fest also had its issues but was not appropriating culture in hope it would attract more young techies – who are often privileged and mostly White. (See demographics of those who work in tech sectors and the issues surrounding discrimination, diversity, etc.)

      I was not hired for this article either. I am a lifelong San Antonio native and member of the community who was asked for my opinion by both a representative of the Mayor’s office and the Rivard Report.
      Thanks for donating!

      • Denise, you should stop judging white people so harshly based on the color of their skin. Besides, in San Antonio, it’s the blacks and whites that are marginalized. Not Latinos. Think about it, they’re calling it “Botanica”, not some “white culture” or “black culture” sounding name. I mean these liberals are like “hey it’s San Antonio, so lets pay respect by giving it a Hispanic name”, and you put them on blast for “cultural appropriation”. Would you feel proud if they changed to name to something to represent the dwindling portion of our population that isn’t Latino?

        • Okay, yeah I see this post of yours on Facebook “I guess you’re for gentrification and displacement of longterm residents in favor of new people who won’t add anything to the city except higher property tax rates and less-spicy salsa?” Ignoring the racist comment about salsa, you really need to learn the difference between higher property tax rates, and higher property taxes due to higher property values. Higher property values results in an increased tax base increasing funding for schools. I’m just at loss as to why Rivard would give you a platform.

          • Holy Privileged Sentiments, Whiteman! It’s almost like this article ignited the White Signal, and there you are, whitesplaining bias and discrimination that you feel your White Privilege is suffering from! No, buddy, you need to learn the definitions of “appropriation” and “gentrification”, and then MAYBE you’ll understand the problem with your replies here.

  7. Thank you for your viewpoint. As “white folk”, my thoughts when I first read “Botanica” was, “oh, here’s a music festival themed around green, plants and trees, Mother Earth, environmental awareness, vegetarian and vegan, maybe a little hippy-dippy….” Now I understand a little more about my neighbors to the south and east of me, here in SA my hometown.

    Some of the tone and bias in your viewpoint made me bristle a bit, but that’s OK since I’m taking this “listen to those around you” seriously. I would like to see comprehensive reforms (‘immigration’ at the federal level, ‘education’ at our state level) debated and enacted now.
    And, yes, get more local or “native” acts signed up to better reflect more of the SA music culture.

    But I remember that “entertainment” appropriates what it can make money off of. And, unlike the “Bodega Incident”, I have not heard about the “tech bros” wanting to shut down botanica establishments on SAs Southside and Westside.
    I say, even if one cannot secure more of the SA music scene at Botanica, let them play on, let whoever comes look around and listen to our environments and their heart, check job boards and real estate prices, and decide if they want spend a lot of time and property and sales tax money here. Then they can join you me and the rest of us continuing to look through the equity lens, and demanding education reform now (they can fight for immigration reform only, if they decide “nah!”)!
    Thank you again, Denise, keep on making salient (and sometimes uncomfortable, to a white dude) points [namaste]

    • Johnathan, this comment is so appreciated! Thank you for doing the work to understand your privileges and fight for those who don’t have them. I agree with you wholeheartedly! It’s going to take all of us to ensure equity in the city we love so much, and I believe it begins with dialogue like this.

      Have a wonderful day.

  8. I understand the frustration many Hispanics feel over the chosen name of the festival. As another person who commented mentioned, the name can make this music festival appear that it is a regional festival and therefore not draw in the target demographic nor draw in the numbers hoped for. Even though there should be some local artists showcased (just like every other music festival does), this music festival should not become exclusively or even a majority of local acts. The author of this article forgets that this city has done minor music festivals with the music acts she is hoping for. These festivals fail because this city by itself doesn’t support the attendance numbers, and thus, the financial backing from sponsorships to last more than a few years. As a Hispanic myself, I would like to remind the author of how many other Hispanic residents leave San Antonio upon receiving an education due to the low number of available jobs in their fields of study. This city likes to tout their progress in the tech fields but the reality is that nationally, the tech field doesn’t even recognize us as a top 25 destination city for that field. With more and more jobs being in tech, we are losing those Hispanics who choose to enter that field due to the lack of opportunities here. In essence, by saying that the creators of this festival are targeting tech workers and calling them white and priviledged, she is also implying that the growing Hispanic-tech demographic shouldn’t hope to have the tech opportunites in SA increase and bring THEM to town. As a Hispanic, I’m not fond of most of the musical acts the author mentioned nor is my family back in Mexico fond of the few acts she mentioned that they are familiar with. But both I and my family in Mexico are excited about some of the acts that have already been confirmed. Not every Hispanic in town feels as she does as far as the direction of the music line up for the festival (although we agree with the frustration over the name). Not every Mexican likes ranchero or mariachi music, not every southerner likes country music, not every African American likes hip hop. Yes, local acts should definitely be included and have the chance for a national audience to experience their sound but this article almost tried to fit Hispanics into a stereotype that we don’t all fit into, the author’s definition of what Hispanics should be like because it is what she is familiar with.

    • David if I could vote this up I would. I am latino and I am in tech in San Antonio. I helped create the opportunity for my role in the local startup here because I wanted to.

      I don’t feel privileged at all.

    • Hi David, thank you for your perspective.

      For clarity, I would like to preface that I don’t identify as “Hispanic,” because it is rooted in problematic political erasure of indigenous and Black people in Mexico/Central/South America (sans Brazil) and those of us who are ethnically from these places. Hispanic is a misnomer for people who speak Spanish and identifies us by way of violent past and continuing colonization. If you choose to identify this way, then more power to you.

      To your points – I am fully aware of how many people my age have left San Antonio to pursue careers because the market is simply not here in many fields. There is ongoing discussion surrounding these issues that I have been intimately involved in as someone who wants my hometown to shine in all areas. It is my belief that the root issue is lack of quality education resources in our public schools going back to the way San Antonio was segregated upon its “founding.” As someone noted above, property taxes pay for our public schools – therefore, historically poor areas (West/South/East) are receiving less financial resources for their students. There are ongoing legal battles to undo this in Texas because it is oppressive and continues segregation.

      My issue remains with trying to lure outside privileged people that will further speed up gentrification as we’ve seen in working-class areas in San Francisco and Austin. We have an opportunity to integrate young professionals in a way that is fair and equitable. CAST Tech HS is a great start in plugging in locals to work in an emerging tech sector. I also think dialogue like this helps. I don’t have all the answers clearly, but there are many solutions in ensuring equity for longterm residents of San Antonio who have been underserved while welcoming new residents who will add to the economy.

      Your opinion on the musical acts I recommended is irrelevant. We all have different taste in music, and I offered acts I admire and have seen grow in the local music scene. And if I wasn’t clear, I like some of the acts listed like Deftones. My suggestion was that it be expanded to include the local music scene more.

      I also didn’t make the statement that certain races of people only like their relevant cultural music or like it at all. I’m very aware of how diverse people are, especially when it comes to music taste. This article wasn’t to fit anyone into a box, especially my own people, but merely to bring a perspective of a native San Antonian who has been frustrated by the lack of connection and outreach in authentic and respectful ways.

      Feel free to email me if you’d ever like to continue this discussion further.

      Thanks again!

      • I don’t identify as “Hispanic,” because it is rooted in problematic political erasure of indigenous and Black people in Mexico/Central/South America (sans Brazil) and those of us who are ethnically from these places. Hispanic is a misnomer for people who speak Spanish and identifies us by way of violent past and continuing colonization. If you choose to identify this way, then more power to you.

        How does “Latinx” not suffer from the same defects you’ve identified with Hispanic? It also refers to a linguistic-racial group–in fact, the ancestor of the “Hispanic” group you decry.

  9. In response to David G. & Dansktex, and others above. The name is the point. Using a name unique to local culture, traditions, and values. This is definitely not a sole example of exploitation of cultural identity (“color run marathon” borrowing from a traditional Indian festival), the list continues. Simply extracting a word without its context nor purpose to market something else is insincere to say the least. Rebel has built her version of healing with food, music, activism, and inclusivity of marginalized people. The festival’s name is the same as her business, so it makes sense that she was asked to speak with organizers. However, this attempt of sensitivity and understanding was most likely done after the creators/investors spent time & money on branding, so it seems more like a PR stunt to portray inclusiveness. I expect that local artists will be eventually added to the lineup, but I am not sure this is an acceptable resolution nor that their participation should be inferred as an “ok” to use the name. At this point, if anything, it would feel like a necessary quota fulfillment to satisfy the author and local artists. To have the city vote on permission to use the name as suggested by Denise in a previous comment sounds ridiculous, but if any of our tax dollars in the form of grants from the city’s art budget or any other financial breaks to host this festival were allocated for this event, then that is probably the least amount these organizers could have done. Lastly, I would like to invite interested persons to the lecture UTSA is hosting next Thursday October 12th (UC Denman Room) at 6pm. “DJs, Collectors, and Black and Brown Sounds.” It is especially relevant to this discussion, check event on FB! (I’m not part of it, just there for the lecture and hopefully to engage in a dialogue afterward.)

    • Correction: UTSA lecture is “Breaking Borders: DJs,…” hosted by Dr. Marco Cervantes. The following taken from the FB page:
      he event, “Breaking Borders: DJs, Collectors, and Black and Brown Sounds” will present DJs/scholars discussing Black and Brown histories within DJ and music collector’s culture. Topics include Black diasporic roots of DJ culture and Latinx music, technology and shifts in DJ approaches, local collectors and reading records as texts, the art of sampling, and Black and Brown musical overlap in San Antonio.

      Keynote by Ruben Molina, Chicano Soul and Rae Cabello, Numero Group
      Panel featuring San Antonio DJs: Dallas, D Major, El Westside Sound, Pac Man, and Sucia Q
      Music by UTSA student DJs: Tezcatlipoca and Hinoxosa
      FREE and open to the public

  10. Thanks for making such an eloquent statement, Denise! I actually publicly pointed out this faux pas to RR staffer Iris Gonzalez on Facebook last week. It just seems like a weird cultural appropriation to me. (Disclosure: I used to work for Univision 41, where I learned to seriously understand and appreciate Latinx culture, and I’ve met a few curanderas/curanderos in my time.)

  11. This is a well written opinion, but sorry, I ain’t buyin’ it…the Botanica fest backers are trying to do something good for the city. We can quibble on venue locale, bands, etc., but they mean well and let’s give them our support.

    The underlying basis of this piece is this: a hyper consciousness of being Chicano, native, with a us vs them mentality, which manifests itself by creating controversy when there should be none.

    We have seen a backlash to this hyper identity politics masquerading as cultural assertiveness and pride, namely in the triumph of extremists who have hijacked the Republican Party and have found success by appealing to cultural, identity politics as well, but to other racial/ethnic groups.

    The author of this opinion piece is probably in her early or mid twenties, and doesn’t have the experience yet to know which cultural Chicano touch stones to defend.

    My family has been in South Texas since the 50s (obviously I am talking about the 1850s), and I don’t know anyone in my family , grand and great grandparents included, who patronized botanicas y curanderas/os.

    If moneyed, educated, well meaning Anglos want to use the words or terms “botanica” or “bodega” , then I appreciate them trying to expand their knowledge and lives by using, even for marketing purposes, Chicano, Mexicano, and Hispano terms. We are a multicultural nation, we all borrow from each other, and we are better for it. What we don’t need is politically reactive positioning, to burnish progressive credentials.

    This 7th generation Tejano says good luck y adelante to the Botanica music fest sponsors/backers!

  12. The Rivard Report just dropped a few notches in my book for allowing such a pathetic excuse for an article to be published under their name. Come on, y’all are better than this. Stop allowing people / “journalist” to make up and spread divisiveness in our city about an event that will be great for SA. Making the concert into a race issue?!?! The article is nothing but hate. It’s Pathetic. Again, y’all are better than this…..

  13. Where’s my post on this article. Still waiting. Mine was one of the better written ones. You do realize this, right?🤗

  14. So much wrong with this essay. It plays up the victimhood card and stresses anger at whites but wants the festival to be an open success? This is disguised racism trumpeting equality and cultural purity as its call.

  15. Denise, how can you write that latinos will be confused and offended that an inauthentic music fest uses Botánica but not by a vegan restaurant and bar? Are you suggesting that only latinos can be inauthentic?

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