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The Fiesta You Don’t Know

Cornyation, lampooning San Antonio’s social elites since 1951.

By April 2017Comments

Photograph by Al Rendon

On April 24, 1891, a group of women gathered at the Alamo and threw blossoms at one another, launching an annual tradition that was then called the Battle of Flowers Parade and today is known as Fiesta San Antonio, an eleven-day series of events held every April and attended by millions.

Though Fiesta is famed throughout Texas (and perhaps beyond) for its parades, concerts, and block parties, one of its most lively events is known to few outside the city limits: Cornyation, a satire of the festival’s Coronation of the Queen of the Order of the Alamo. Begun in 1951, Cornyation lampooned the local social elites who ran Fiesta and cast itself as an event for the city’s “little people.” As Trinity University sociology and anthropology professor Amy L. Stone makes clear in her new book, Cornyation: San Antonio’s Outrageous Fiesta Tradition (Trinity University Press, April 11), to a large extent this meant giving gay people and cross-dressers a once-a-year chance to be themselves in public. In the years that followed, this modest, grassroots affair evolved into a three-day spectacle featuring such characters as the Pointless Sisters, the Vice-Empress of Garlic (who wore “an odiferous necklace of garlic weighing five pounds”), and the Duchess of Herman’s Happiness. After going into hibernation in the mid-sixties, Cornyation reemerged in the eighties as the AIDS crisis made its message of acceptance more urgent than ever.

This year’s Fiesta will take place April 20–30; Cornyation will run from April 25–27.

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  • Amy Stone

    I’m the author of this book on Cornyation, my favorite Fiesta San Antonio event. I’m pleased to see coverage of this event in Texas Monthly, as it is one of the largest fundraisers for HIV/AIDS in the Southwest. Cornyation has been an important part of the Fiesta San Antonio tradition since the 1950s, and I know so many people from all walks of life that enjoy coming to see the show every year. The event uses campy gay humor to satirize politics, media, and culture, but I have always appreciated the show’s cast and audience includes a diversity of people from different backgrounds from across the city.

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