Good question: Why cover Fiesta?

Bobbie Sena hated the Express-News Fiesta coverage. So did Saul Sandoval. But unlike Sena, he didn’t object to how the newspaper framed its coverage; he objected to the perennial message it delivered — that while nearly everything about Fiesta is Mexican American, King Antonio was again an Anglo.

I’ve been observing Fiesta coverage here for nearly 40 years, and it’s almost always the same old, same old. You have the parades, the food booths, the Fiesta “royalty,” a Night in Old San Antonio. We write about it because tens of thousands of people are out running around eating and drinking too much every night, kids get a day off from school and hundreds of thousands of people span parade routes. But from one year to the next, there isn’t much that’s new.

Last year, there was an emphasis on limiting litter along the parade routes. This year it was on limiting drunkenness. But the reality is that stuff happens — year after year.

Sena cut right to the chase when I called her, citing Roy Bragg’s edgy reporting in his Page 1 story last Sunday.

“From it’s beginnings as a celebration by wealthy families for wealthy families — a point not lost on Latinos who felt it demonized their heritage,” Bragg wrote, “the event has evolved into the Everyman’s Party of San Antonio, luring millions into the heart of the city.” Continuing, he wrote: “Fiesta embraces the traditions of San Antonio: food, friendliness and diversity.”

Hold on, Sena said. “Fiesta is not a celebration of diversity; it’s a celebration of freedom. It’s a celebration of Sam Houston’s victory over the Mexican dictator Santa Anna and his troops on April 21, 1836. As Texans, we should celebrate our freedom from Mexican rule.”

I asked her if she feels that “most of the people who attend Fiesta events don’t know what they are celebrating.”

“I’m afraid so,” she replied.

Sandoval, in a letter to the editor published yesterday, said Fiesta is a “fun time for many, however I take umbrage with the selection of the King Antonio candidates. Correct me if I am wrong, but I do not believe there has ever been a Mexican American … crowned as King Antonio.” (He’s correct.)

Sandoval cited Rey Feo’s approach as the right way, with “Hispanic and non-Hispanic candidates in their past dossier.”

I don’t wish to insert myself or the Express-News in these controversies. I’m not sure they are controversies. Sena is right; she represents the past. Bragg is right; he covers the present, as daily newspapers do. And Sandoval is right, and very likely represents a future — who knows when? — when a King Antonio might actually be a guy named Antonio.

Like most things American, the culture evolves and — sorry, Bobbie — diversifies. The people who love Fiesta — many of whom have been at it for decades — have done a good job of adjusting over the years to what is needed: from kids strolling the parade route scooping horse poop; to seamstresses of modest means earning enough to feed their families for a year stitching together ornate gowns worn by Order of the Alamo royalty; to patriotic salutes almost daily at the Alamo.

Considering the number of events, and their limited news value, the paper does an adequate job of making readers aware of what’s happening and what celebrants are saying — but the fact is, not much changes from year to year. And, altogether, that is not a bad thing.

This column was originally published in the San Antonio Express-News on April 17, 2011.

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