There’s no shortage of celebrations of Mexican and Mexican American culture in our great city.

Not so visible on the cultural radar is awareness and recognition of our region’s Native American population. Two local cultural arts nonprofits are working to stem that tide, thanks to support from the San Antonio Area Foundation.

American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions (AIT) and Kalpulli Ayolopaktzin are hoping to do more local outreach and let our community explore the cultural traditions they bring to the table.

In recognition of Native American Heritage Month in November, the Area Foundation spoke to both groups about how their mission and work is interwoven into local culture and history.

Americans Indians in Texas work for the preservation and protection of the culture and traditions of Native American tribes and other indigenous people who resided in the Spanish colonial missions. 

“A lot of different institutions reach out to us to help support what they’re doing – military bases, some of the universities and school districts,” said Ramon J. Vasquez, the nonprofit’s executive director. “They usually want us to come in and do a dance or culinary presentation.”

Vasquez has always been thankful when institutions call on them for support. He would like to see more of them reach out – though he would rather see the interest beyond just one month of the year.

“When we have opportunities like this, we really appreciate that people are thinking about us and including us, but let’s not wait,” he said.” Let’s program something early enough and give it the same attention as other events. We don’t want to be an afterthought.”

Vasquez said thanks to grant funding through the Area Foundation’s Cultural Vibrancy impact area, AIT purchased a new building and are currently establishing the first-ever American Indian Center in San Antonio, which will include an art gallery.

“If it wasn’t for the Area Foundation, we would be years away from this,” he effused. “We believe the center will eventually impact cultural tourism. People will have the opportunity to get a taste of the different American Indian cultures that shaped Texas.”

Like AIT, Kalpulli Ayolopaktzin has a packed calendar around this time of year. The organization provides a space where allies of San Antonio’s BIPOC community can come to explore their indigeneity through artistic expression and educational workshops in a setting where they can gather, learn and create. 

Laura Rios-Ramirez, spokesperson for Kalpulli, said one of the organization’s goals is to invite people to learn about the group’s cultural and traditional practices.

“A lot of the things we do with the community are blessings or knowledge sharing,” she shared. “We do everything from Día de Muertos celebrations to dances for Latinx Heritage Month or Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”

Rios-Ramirez said Area Foundation grant funding empowered the organization to literally expand horizons when they went to Mexico for an educational experience taking in a series of sweat lodges and ceremonial centers. Sweat lodges are dome-shaped huts where Native Americans hold purification ceremonies. Kalpulli hopes to build San Antonio’s first adobe sweat lodge.

“Most of the sweat lodges in this area follow a northern native tradition, which comes from Lakota heritage,” Rios-Ramirez said. “With (Area Foundation support), we were able to research more about the traditional practices of the adobe sweat lodges, which is a different practice and tradition. We want to offer that healing modality for the folks who are ready to connect to the cultural and traditional practices that we keep.”

The Area Foundation is proud to support and uplift our region’s cultural arts nonprofits and helped many of them stay afloat during and recovering from the pandemic. Find out more about our Cultural Vibrancy impact area and how you can support our grantmaking work. 

Francisco “Kiko” Martinez is a San Antonio-based freelance writer and member of the San Antonio Area Foundation Marketing and Communications Department’s Storytelling Ambassador contributor network.