Performance about the city of San Antonio, Spurs basketball team, and memories of the Moya family presented on May 6, 2014 at the Blaffer Art Museum in conjunction with Antena at Blaffer. Video by Erin Joyce.
This essay considers the San Antonio Spurs basketball team and one of the most Mexican cities in the United States.
San Antonio is not my home. The difference between Austin, where I’m from, and San Antonio, where we went to visit my mom’s family is this:Austin is a city about white people. San Antonio is a city about Mexican people. This essay deals with my family who live and lived in the San Antonio area. When the first of usdied, I began to wonder about the next phase of us.
I don’t remember if Texas history books contain the word colonization, but the Spanish and other Euros invaded the shit out of this hemisphere 522 years ago, as we all know. Then Spanish men named a mission San Antonio de Béxar in 1718. Monks there were bent on collecting converts when they weren’t dodging arrows, hunger, and disease. Texas independence in 1836 was followed by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, when thousands of Mexicans in the Southwest lost language, faith, and nationality to imposed overnight American ‘citizenship’.
Light skinned and dark skinned history: Here’s the way the story was told to me: Mom’s cousin Jesse was dark skinned, but somehow he married a blond hair, blue eyed girl. One day Jesse caught her fooling around with her boss and in that instant, husband and wife shot each other to death in front of their two kids. The boss was injured but survived. I don’t know what happened to their children.
Paseo del Río
In the 1980s San Antonio refashioned itself into a Tex Mex fun hub and embarked on a slew of cultural rescue-renovation projects including the expansion of the Riverwalk, where gardened pathways edged with Tex Mex-themed bars, shops, and restaurants entice visitors as they wind along just the below street level of historic downtown. To protect its cultural-touristic investments, the city simultaneously instigated projects to control flooding of the San Antonio River, which runs along the zoo, Alamo, and each of the three old Spanish missions.
My family went to the river walk a couple of times. We might have even gone on a floating boat once. If we did, ballet folklórico was danced on the banks as we floated past. At Christmas, lights covered every overhanging branch and it was kind of cold. I don’t know if I thought I was dreaming or if I thought that this must be what Mexico was like. When my cousin got out of the navy, he married a white girl at a Mexican themed bar near there. The bar was in a little square with stands that sold paper flowers and fake Nike gear. They got divorced a few years later. Their daughters are beautiful.
Like Mexico itself, San Antonio is a tourist hot spot; the Alamo remains the most popular attraction in Texas. In 1993 the city spent $186 million on the Alamodome, new house of its basketball team. The stadium didn’t resemble the original site, but the times called for graftings of history. Following the opening of Seaworld in 1988, the Six Flags Fiesta Texas Amusement Park opened in 1992 on the north western outskirts of town. Dedicated to fun filtered through a mix of attractions named and modeled after the region’s German and Mexican heritage, Fiesta Texas was a fantasy of lederhosen, roller coasters, and Tejano music. At the time, San Antonio’s renewed interest in its own historical and cultural identity wasn’t tied to a specific historical landmark; it could spring up anywhere as anything.
Fiesta Texas was the most fun I could have as a kid. My identity as a Texan came a lot from the way I felt while walking around there. Everyone’s sweating, eating bratwurst on a stick or churros with some form of accordion music playing persistently in the background. Texans walking around in the heat, walking thru history, eating food, and blowing chunks.
Back in the Game
As San Antonio became a center of amusement, the Spurs warmed up the court. The team hit reset in 1989 with a new owner, new coach, and new recruit David Robinson. Over the next decade, the Spurs gained speed with players like Sean Elliott, Avery Johnson, and Dennis Rodman. They won their first NBA Championship in 1999 and worked the city into a fiesta frenzy again in 2003, 2005, and 2007.
Lackland, Kelly, and Randolph Air Force Bases surround the city of San Antonio. My grandfather’s life ended at Randolph. Doctors there killed him, my mom said. He died of gangrene. Luis Moya, air force, World War II, refused service in restaurants while wearing his uniform. He is buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. My mom and I visited his grave last summer. It was the first time she had returned to him since his funeral and she was amazed by how many graves have been added since then. we searched the rows of white markers for a while. Sweating, I couldn’t believe how beautiful the place was.
More to the point of frenzy: the irregular edge and bright colors of the 90s Spurs logo embody one player in particular who brought a new attitude to the team, fans, and the sport at large. Dennis Rodman joined the Spurs in 1993, and there has never been anyone like him since. It was with the Spurs that Rodman went full force into his rebellious, chameleon side. The Worm was out of nowhere; in a town of many aliens, he was the one who outed himself.
My uncle was like D Rod because he did what he wanted for most of his life.He went to school in San Marcos, lived in Schertz, his favorite bar was in Selma, and the last time I saw him alive was in Gruene, Texas. Before he got sick he used to ride his motorcycle all over, up and down I-35, and all the way out to Big Bend and Terlingua, and he did motocross before that. He insisted that things about him and his way of acting was because he was Mexican. At his funeral people put lots of stuff in his coffin like beads, rosaries, and alcohol. Before the priest gave the final mass, a group of his closest biker friends stood by him and all drank from a bottle of whiskey and then left it with him in his coffin. They buried him in a Triumph t shirt and jeans like he always wore.
The Coyote: The Only Mexican on the Team
Is it strange that the team representing a city with one of the largest concentrations of Mexican Americans has never turned out a big Mexican American star? Whatever loose associations we can make with the gaucho/ vaquero/ charro/ cowboy connotations of spur, Manu Ginobili is still South American. That leaves us with the Coyote, the Spurs mascot since 1983 and as far as I can tell, the only Mexican (American) on the team.
The word ‘coyote’ comes directly from the Spanish word ‘coyote,’ which comes from the Nahuatl word ‘coyotl’. The Spanish took on and adapted the term since coyotes were never before seen to them, being native to the New World. Coyotes are unwanted scavengers but also skilled as tricksters, border crossers, and pícaros of the western hemisphere.
It is my contention that I too am a coyote.
Going Forward, Going Backward
In San Antonio, the future comes through the past. Whatever its intentions have been and will be, its relationship with its Mexican identity is tenuously but inevitably linked, and the visitor cannot leave without a sense that the city is genuinely haunted by those that have come before.
Somewhere along I-35 south, I soften myself down or harden myself up for what lay before me.
Who were we? Who are we? Who will we be next?
Where have we come from? Where are we now? Where are we going?
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