Mexican art, history, culture and gastronomy visit Laredo

Mexico is often considered one of the most beautiful countries in the world, with its wide range of landscapes, history and cultures that form the basis of what the country brings to it. Moreover, it is well known for its art and its generations of traditions which are still practiced today.

The 18th Annual Sister City Festival at Sames Auto Arena is a slice of that world, presented to residents and visitors alike without the need for travel tickets or a tour of Mexico. It’s also a quick getaway for residents who want to sample Mexican food straight from Aguascalientes, Michoacan, Nuevo Leon and more.

Between the first and the 18th celebration, a lot has changed for the festival. In 2002, it saw 48 vendors, and it was held at the Old Civic Center a year later. In 2005 there were 97 stands and in 2006 120 exhibits led to an overflow into an outdoor tent. Since 2010, the facility now named Sames Auto Arena has become the festival site to accommodate the growing number of vendors.

That year, Elia Tovar Olvera traveled from San Miguel Allende, and she’s brought her wares to the Sister City Festival every year since. His stand featured many handmade items including metalwork, ceramics, woodwork and more. One coveted item was the volcanic stone molcahete, which she says is a way to intensify the flavor of any sauce compared to an electric mixer.

Olvera said the volcanic stone enhances the flavor-enhancing properties of herbs and encouraged everyone to learn the ways of molcahete instead of a blender. Besides her many kitchen utensils, a figure of Dia de los Muertos Frida Kahlo stood in the middle of her stand. This provided a colorful focal point that showed off more and more of Olvera’s items.

Juan Gabriel Aguilera Delgadillo of Aguascalientes said he and his wife came to the festival to show off their handmade leather and sewn items. These included satchels, sandals, keychains and other accessories. For more than eight years, the couple worked on embroidery using Pita fiber, which results in intricate designs on their finished products.

Showing off his wife’s work, a leather sandal was adorned with a floral pattern. Delgadillo pointed to the fact that there was no beginning or end to the design, showing that it was handcrafted. He believes that dedication to creating handcrafted items ultimately leads to a greater appreciation of the products made, by both the creator and the buyer.

In 2019, more than 25,000 attendees were registered during the three-day event, with the Laredo Convention and Visitors Bureau expecting to meet or break that record in 2022. Aileen Ramos, Director of CVB, said the initial line at the morning gate was a strong sign of increased demand for the festival. Plus, there was an upbeat energy as residents sat down to watch the “Danza de los Viejitos” eat from stalls, shop for a new outfit, or shop for home decor.

Guest and renowned personality, Sammy the House strolled through the aisles, hypnotized by the works on display and the creations made before his eyes. He praised the accessibility to the event, as parking, entry and navigation were free.

An example of navigation was a carpenter who – using his hands and feet – created a wooden molinillo in the middle of the festival. These handicrafts are a staple of the festival and Mexican culture, and they’re part of why Sammy and his wife visit the festival every year.

“I really like Mexican candy. I really, really like Mexican candies. I should probably stay away from them,” he said. “I really like the Dia de los Muertos stuff. I really like the indigenous stuff. I like to see stuff from the homeland, stuff that comes straight from the homeland. This gentleman was working here with his feet and his hands , it was cool to see that. It’s cool that these things are not lost.

He also encouraged locals to get out of the house and visit the festival for its cultural, social and historical roots. Sammy the House added that it is important to remember those who have consistently worked with their hands and continue to create their art through modern times of machination and assembly line work.

“These people have a work ethic, they do things – really nice things – and it’s stuff that would make you go, ‘Oh that’s cute, I saw it online.’ No, you have to see that from people doing it,” he said.

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