Rosita Fernandez: La Rosa De San Antonio

Article excerpt

The romantic and historic city of San Antonio is more beautiful when at night one hears the sweet voice of the "first lady of song" from San Antonio. She is the diminutive Rosita Fernandez. Her very special style with romantic songs is recognized in many places, from Hollywood, where she had a starring role in Walt Disney's Sancho the Homing Steer, to Mexico and New York, where she has had great success on television and in the best clubs. Often, Rosita's voice has delighted United States President Lyndon B. Johnson, and on his renowned ranch, she has performed for the president of Mexico and for other European dignitaries. In her travels, Rosita has always received the finest attentions, but she always returns to her adoptive city, San Antonio, Texas. Rosita and San Antonio are inseparable.

Walter Jurmann, San Antonio (Ciudad De Encantos), Rosita Fernandez, Miramar Music MR-502.

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Rosita Fernandez has performed publicly for more than sixty years and has continually negotiated her representation and iconography as "Rosita," "San Antonio's Rose," "La Rosa de San Antonio," and "San Antonio's 'First Lady of Song'"--the latter name bestowed upon her by Lady Bird Johnson. Rosita navigated through varied musical expressions, audiences, and gendered expectations throughout her career, all the while maintaining her desire to be a public performer, to earn a living, and to make a home in San Antonio. As a Mexicana public performer in Texas, the ability to carve out a livelihood as a public performer was quite a feat, particularly in the earlier decades of the twentieth century. (1) Rosita's negotiations of racialized representations, language, gender, and class as a Mexicana public figure in San Antonio reveal the complexity and tensions that exist for Tejana (Texas-Mexican female) singers within a hegemonic Anglo-Texan public sphere.

The brief biographical overview presented below of Rosita Fernandez's life and career reveals intricate ways in which she negotiated aspects of her career and personal life. Moreover, this overview validates a Mexican American woman singer's life story that has gone unrecognized and under-explored. (2)

LA ROSA

Rosita Fernandez was born in Monterrey, Mexico, in 1918, to Petra San Miguel and Cesar Fernandez. Around 1924, she and her family migrated through Laredo into Texas, eventually settling in San Antonio at the age of nine. (3)

When Rosita and her family crossed the U.S.-Texas border into Laredo, they did not find it to be as explicit a demarcation between the United States and Mexico as it is today:

   La frontera no existia. Era muy facil. Mi papa y mama con tanta
   familia, pues cuando nos imigraron nos pasamos por aca por
   Laredo, Tejas. Lo que cobraban entonces era cinco dolares por
   persona y tres y medio o cuatro por los chiquios ... era mucho
   mas facil. (4)

   The border didn't exist. It was very easy. My father and mother
   with so much family, well, when we immigrated, we came through
   Laredo, Texas. What they charged then was five pesos per person
   and three-fifty or four for the little ones. It was very much
   easier.

Rosita described San Antonio in the 1930s and 1940s as "un Mexico chiquito" (a little Mexico). Her entrance into San Antonio's public cultural sphere was within a vibrant urban landscape. Her statement is validated by the demographics of the time. During the 1930s and 1940s, Texas had the largest Mexican presence of any state in the South. Also, according to the 1930 U.S. Census, over 60 percent of the Mexican residents in Texas were born in the United States. Within the context of racial segregation and economic subordination of Mexicanos in Texas, a vibrant culture of Spanish-language song and cultural ambience was expressed whenever Rosita and other Mexicano singers and musicians stepped into the South Texas public sphere. (5)

For Rosita, San Antonio has always been home--a place that represented the possibility for extending the cultural legacy of Mexico she so strongly embraced and desired in her cultural production. …