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San Antonio Missions preserve Native American history in Texas’s first World Heritage Site March 10, 2016

Posted by Tracy in : Civil Rights travel, Historical preservation, Indigenous culture, San Antonio , add a comment


Story and photos by Tracy L. Barnett
for the Washington Post

Two weathered gravestones sit in a small, dusty rectangle in front of the grand Spanish church at the heart of the nation’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Site, the San Antonio Missions. I’ve been to Mission San Jose many times — to attend the lively Mariachi Mass, to photograph its antique majesty, to reflect on the history of this place and its role in the settlement of the American Southwest. But this is the first time I’ve thought of it as a cemetery.

I’m seeing it through the eyes of two direct descendants of the missions’ original inhabitants, members of the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation, whose ancestors inhabited this part of what is now Texas for thousands of years. Some 300 years ago, they helped to build these missions, and their descendants maintain a vital connection to them.

Last year the five missions, spread out over about 12 miles along the San Antonio River, received the coveted designation of World Heritage Site. Four of them are still active Catholic parishes, attended by some of the original Native American descendants; the fifth, Mission San Antonio de Valero, went on to become a military garrison — the legendary Alamo, now converted into a memorial to the battle fought there.

Ramón Vásquez, a straight-talking Texan with a dark ponytail, and the soft-spoken Jesús “Jesse” Reyes Jr., an anthropologist in a cowboy hat and bolo tie, are my guides today. Ramón, executive director of a nonprofit organization called the American Indians in Texas, has teamed up with Jesse to create Yanawana Mission Tours — named for the pre-Hispanic name for the San Antonio River — which offers an eye-opening perspective not just on the missions, but also on American history itself.

Read the rest of the story here

Feet on Fire: Get immersed in San Antonio’s hot flamenco scene February 1, 2016

Posted by Tracy in : San Antonio , add a comment


Tracy L. Barnett
Photo by Wyatt McFadden
For Texas Journey magazine

Teresa Champion was just 6 years old when she heard a sound that 
would change her life forever. She was the leader in line to go to 
catechism class in her South San Antonio barrio when a sharp click-click-click reached her small ears and piqued her curiosity. The next day, she stood last in line, and when the group rounded the corner, she hung back and returned to the place where she’d heard that sound. She peered into a window and stood transfixed.
“I saw this older lady, heavy size, and she was …”— here Teresa stops to demonstrate the motion and sound of the castanets, wooden clapping instruments—
“I had no idea what I was seeing. I stood there, and I forgot about the catechism.”
Every day she did the same, slipping away from her class to go back and watch the 
lady dance. After a week, the woman came out and spoke to her.
“Are you a dancer?” she asked in Spanish.
“‘I’ve never danced,’ I told her, and she asked if I’d like to try,” Teresa says.
So began the initiation of a gypsy soul.

Read the rest of the story here

San Antonio’s Missions declared a World Heritage site July 6, 2015

Posted by Tracy in : San Antonio, Spain, Texas , add a comment

Alamo with Moon (Al Rendon photo, courtesy San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau)

Tracy L. Barnett, Special for USA TODAY

Five cherished portals to America’s Spanish colonial past have just been elevated to the stature of Machu Picchu, Stonehenge and the Taj Mahal with Sunday’s decision by the World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to grant World Heritage status to San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.

“We are thrilled,” said San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor, calling from Bonn, Germany, soon after the announcement was made. “The decision came right after Independence Day and we felt we were representing the United States on a world stage, so it was very exciting.”

What kind of traveler are you? San Antonio Trips for 5 Types of Travelers May 1, 2014

Posted by Tracy in : San Antonio , add a comment


By Tracy L. Barnett
Special package for USA Today’s Experience Weekend site

Remember the Alamo? Well, San Antonio has a whole lot more to offer visitors these days, almost enough to make you forget about that iconic shrine to Texas liberty. Miles and miles of newly developed spaces along the River Walk, an irresistible selection of fine dining experiences, a diverse and vibrant music scene, a sizzling nightlife – all of it colored by that special cultural blend that you’ll only find in America’s most Mexican of cities. Nowadays you’ll need at least a week to explore the best the city has to offer. But here’s a warning – once you’ve gotten a taste of the Alamo City, you may not want to leave.

San Antonio for First-Timers

San Antonio for Families

San Antonio for Foodies

San Antonio for Romance

San Antonio for Hipsters

Walls that Speak: Westside San Antonio's Murals February 20, 2014

Posted by Tracy in : San Antonio, Uncategorized , 5comments

Walls that Speak

By Tracy L. Barnett
Texas Journey magazine
March/April 2014

Deep in San Antonio’s Westside, at the corner of El Paso and Chupaderas streets, the 10-foot-tall face of Jesus overlooks a scrappy landscape, a world of sadness reflected in his weary brown eyes. For more
than a decade, the locals have come to this corner to pray.

There’s a story about this corner that artist Cruz Ortiz likes to tell, a story that’s been retold so often it’s become local lore. One time, Ortiz showed up at the mural and saw a woman resting against a nearby pole.

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“Are you okay?” he asked.

“I come here every Sunday,” she replied. “Because they won’t let me in at the church.”

That corner had become her church, her resting place, her place of hope.

On other corners in this neighborhood, people find stories of triumph and defeat, of musical legacy, of loved ones lost, and of celebrated heroes.

San Antonio is in the heart January 9, 2010

Posted by Tracy in : San Antonio , 2comments

Yes, I know it’s the tourism board’s sentimental slogan, and I am now nowhere near the River Walk, 700 miles to the south in Mexico City. But nostalgia dies hard, especially when it comes to San Antonio, and so I was pleased to be asked to write a story about my former hometown for the Houston Chronicle. The story appears in today’s travel section. San Antonio Express-News travel readers will get a treat from my former Houston Chronicle colleague, Harry Shattuck, detailing some of the finer points of the Bayou City.

Here’s a little taste of my San Antonio story, together with a slide show and a link to the full story, for those who don’t have access to today’s Chronicle. If you’d like to see more of my San Antonio ramblings, click here for a beyond-the-Alamo tour guide.


More to love in the Alamo City

If you liked San Antonio before, get ready.

The Alamo City is just about to give you a whole lot more to love.

From the revitalized Main Plaza at the heart of the city to the restored Mission Concepción in the south, from the newly polished gem of a Japanese Garden in Brackenridge Park to the hip and happening Pearl Brewery complex, there’s already more to see in San Antonio than you may have suspected.

The city’s crown jewel — the famed River Walk — is undergoing a $384.5 million expansion that will increase its reach by several orders of magnitude. This 13-mile linear parkway is unfolding in stages until late 2013, transforming a neglected, weed-choked drainage ditch into a word-class attraction. In the process, the project is transforming the city itself.

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Upcoming blogging workshop at Gemini Ink September 14, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in : San Antonio, Writing workshops , add a comment

Gemini InkI’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll say it again: Gemini Ink is one of those things that makes San Antonio special.

Most visitors and many residents don’t realize what a thriving literary hub San Antonio has become over the years, and Gemini Ink is a big part of that. It’s also due to the generosity and the open-spiritedness of nationally known writers like Naomi Shihab Nye, Sandra Cisneros, and John Phillip Santos, to name just a few, who give workshops and encouragement to beginning writers and those who are in the process of transition, like yours truly. Because of them, I am a better writer.

Gemini Ink showcases the work of literary lights like Peter Mattheissen, Margaret Atwater and Annie Prioux, bringing them to town for a free public reading and smaller, targeted events. Its Writers in Communities and University Without Walls programs also give a forum to local and regional writers like me, and I’ve greatly enjoyed my association with them over the years. It’s put me in touch with some excellent writers and community folks, some of whom I remain in touch with today.

The fall program is packed with great classes and is just getting underway. Check it out here and consider attending an event or two. Some are free readings and workshops; others require a small fee.

All of which leads me to a backhanded self promotion: I’ll be conducting a day of two workshops on blogging on Saturday, Sept. 26 and would welcome your participation if you’re in the area. It’s not free, but I promise to make it worth your time.  Here’s my plug:

Blogging is a medium that can work for you, whether your medium is poetry or politics, business or social causes. Whether you’re a complete novice or someone who’s been doing this for awhile and are looking for some new ideas and skills to sharpen up your site, there’s something here for you.

The morning session is strictly for beginners – those who haven’t yet ventured into blogging territory but have been thinking about it and wanting to do it. We’ll help you settle on a name, choose a theme and set up your own blog. Here’s the link.

The afternoon session is for bloggers who want to get better exposure for their sites and sharpen up the look and tone. We’ll look at how to promote your work through other social media, network with other bloggers and incorporate slide shows and video for a livelier site. Here’s the other link.

If you will contact me in advance and let me know what you’ve already been working on, it will help me to tailor the program to meet your needs. Also, if you have a laptop, please bring it along. Students may register for one or both courses.

Beyond the Alamo in San Antonio August 26, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in : San Antonio, Texas , 4comments
San Antonio's West Side is alive with color, culminating in a collection of murals that tell its stories.

San Antonio's West Side is alive with color, and scattered with murals that tell its stories.

There’s a touch of irony in the Alamo’s stature as the No. 1 stop on the San Antonio tourist trail. The Alamo was all about the battle to wrest Texas from Mexico. Though Santa Anna lost the war, he won the battle in San Antonio, and the Mexican spirit has prevailed – which is the other part of what people come to see. Hispanic influence touches everything: the art, the literature, the music, the cuisine, the activism. And that’s a huge part of what makes San Antonio so special.

Tracy and Peter on the River Walk

Tracy and Peter on the River Walk

In honor of Travel Detective Peter Greenberg, who has invited me to appear on his excellent travel show, Peter Greenberg Worldwide, I’ve put together a list of my favorite off-the-tour-bus San Anto sights and experiences. Listen to the podcast here, and browse Peter’s site for a wealth of travel news. Peter’s logged more miles than anyone I know, and amazingly, he finds time to serve as a volunteer firefighter in Long Island on the weekends. And please add your favorite San Antonio haunts in the comment section below.

To begin, you need to find out what’s going on in town when you arrive and drop in on an art opening, a poetry reading or a concert before diving into the sumptuous restaurant scene. Check the Downtown Blog and the Events Calendar by downtown denizen Ben Olivo of the SA Express-News and the events calendar of the San Antonio Current to be in the know.


* Main Plaza, scene of many free concerts, San Fernando Cathedral and the historic town square

* La Villita, another concert, festival and gallery venue amid San Antonio’s oldest neighborhood.

* Hemisfair Park, a lushly fountained and landscaped park created for the 1968 World’s Fair, is a quiet getaway where you can explore spectacular public art, drop by the Institute of Mexican Culture and take a ride up in the Tower of the Americas to have a drink and watch the sunset at The Chart House restaurant.

* Museo Alameda, the Hispanic Smithsonian, right on the corner of Market Square – don’t miss the gift shop, the quirky, kitschy creation of San Antonio artist Franco Mondini-Ruiz.

King William District – The city’s German heritage and history is concentrated here, with mansions, galleries, and eateries (Azuca, La Foccacia, Cascabel, Gunther House, Mad Hatter Tea Room).

West Side:

The West Side has a reputation that comes from its long history as a low-income area. But it’s also the birthplace of a vibrant arts scene, and the casual visitor will find a colorful, welcoming community full of Mexican and Chicano culture, authentic pride and some of the world’s best tacos. For me, the West Side is the true heart of San Antonio.

Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, a beautiful arts venue and culture center. Everything from the Tejano and conjunto music of San Antonio native Flaco Jimenez to the Latin American film festival to live teatro campesino can be seen here, and the gift shop is full of great finds. Here is where you’ll find the supersized Virgin of Guadalupe candle, a spectacular mosaic created by San Antonio artist Jesse Trevino. The artist, a veteran, lost his painting hand in the Vietnam War, and his struggle to express his vision has made him the beloved artist laureate of San Antonio.


SA chefs vie for trip to Tahiti July 31, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in : Food, San Antonio, Texas , add a comment

On a May visit to San Antonio, I happened by the new Bistro Bakery, the latest offering by the prolific and popular French chef Damien Watel. He had brought in his mother to help run the place, and the two were running hither and yon to keep up with the overflowing crowd.

Damien, a descendant of a chef who served French King Louis XIV, has been my favorite San Antonio chef since he turned an old laundromat into Ciao Lavanderia, which serves infallibly fabulous cuisine. I liked him even better when he converted the neighboring nail salon into Ciao Vino, perhaps the city’s best wine bar. Since then, he’s opened two new restaurants in the exclusive Stone Oak development on San Antonio’s upscale north side.


His project made headlines recently when he got into trouble with the Stone Oak property association for installing a sculpture of a fork without authorization. Watel responded to the censure by erecting an also controversial “Wall of Censorship” partially obscuring the offending fork.

Little wonder, given the hyperactive Watel’s peripatetic pace, that he’s thrown his hat into the ring for a free getaway vacation in Tahiti.

Today I received this item in a press release from Tahiti Tourisme North America:

“Damien Watel and his girlfriend Lisa of San Antonio are battling it out with more than 20 other couples for a trip to Tahiti.

The couple (both professional chefs) entered Tahiti Tourisme’s “Invest in Your Love” video contest by submitting a video, Recipe for Tahiti, on why they need (and deserve) an escape to the beautiful islands of Tahiti.”

What’s even more fun: You can vote for Damien’s vacation here:

“Now it’s up to the public to decide who gets to move on to the finals.  Voting for this round is open to the public and runs from July 25 through August 8.  Videos that receive the highest number of public votes by August 8 move on as finalists and then the winner will be selected from an expert panel of judges.

Visit investinyourlove.com to watch the videos, vote and for information on how to enter to win a trip to the South Pacific island paradise of Tahiti.   There are four more contest periods to submit a  video for a chance to win, running until the end of November.”

I don’t know about you, but I think he’s earned it.

SA hotels make "World's Best" list July 17, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in : Food, San Antonio, Sustainability , add a comment

Recently I was in San Antonio to visit the new stretch of the famed River Walk, and to visit with chef John Brand, the culinary wizard behind the remake of two River Walk classics, Pesca and Las Canarias.

Brand has distinguished himself with a cuisine that is both cutting-edge and creative, while being an active adherent to farm-to-table and sustainable harvesting practices. Here’s an interview I did with Brand at Las Canarias after a memorable lunch in May.

Pesca and Las Canarias and their parent hotels, the Watermark Hotel and Spa and Omni’s La Mansion del Rio, have more to celebrate this month than a new stretch of the River Walk. Both hotels made Travel + Leisure’s “World’s Best Hotels” list — the only hotels in Texas to have received this honor.

Here’s the story in the San Antonio Business Journal.

Of course, it can’t hurt that they’ve got a world-class chef at the helm of their two restaurants. Congrats, y’all.