Special SectionsFiesta Medals: crazy collections and more

Explore the diversity, history and tradition behind Fiesta's infamous medals
Maria ZaharatosApril 11, 2019382 min
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Illustration by Andrea Nebhut

Cats, condoms, Jesus dressed in Spurs memorabilia — what do all of these have in common, you may ask? Well, they’re just a few of the designs that have been engraved on Fiesta medals for the San Antonio celebration.

Heather Haynes Smith, associate professor of education, began collecting Fiesta medals when her son was born.

“The Viva bus medal is a favorite because there is a commercial with my son in it about the Viva culture bus. He loves it, and they gave it to him as a special gift,” she said.

Fiesta is a 10-day celebration — this year from April 18 to April 28 — where San Antonio residents, Texans and even some out-of-state tourists come to the city to engage in over 100 events and festivities. It is a celebration of San Antonio’s culture and history, namely in memory of the Battle of San Jacinto and the Battle of the Alamo. Funds raised from these events go to the city and to charitable causes.

Medals only started to become a popular part of Fiesta after the 1960s and used to just be coins with the Fiesta King’s face on them.

Today, there are thousands of medals to chose from as individuals, companies, organizations and even city departments produce their own medals for the celebration; these medals are bought, sold and traded at Alamo Plaza when the events kick off.

“In my Fiesta heyday, 2013-2014, I probably had around 100 to 120 medals from all different parts of town,” said alumna Jeanna Goodrich Balreira, director for creative and editorial services with the Office of Strategic Communications and Marketing. “I would go nuts with the medal trading.”

But not all alumni remember the prevalence of medals in San Antonio during Fiesta. Haynes Smith doesn’t remember hearing about the decorative medals when she was at Trinity. However, when she returned to San Antonio, she saw medal-collecting as a way to feel part of the community.

“You go to the stores you like to go to, and they have a medal, so you think, ‘Well, I want to support them, and it’s also for charity,’ ” Haynes Smith said.

Haynes Smith added that the most special medals are often the ones that you can’t find easily.

“This is how we celebrate. We share them. We exchange them. It’s fun to get ones that you can’t buy. That’s kind of the thing, to find ones that only you can have because you were given one,” Haynes Smith said.

Since 2002, Trinity has also partaken in the creation of its own medals and releases one each year designed by university publications designer Vee Dubose. These medals typically feature significant symbols of the university, from Leeroy to Murchison Tower, and for Fiesta 2019 represents Trinity’s 150th anniversary.

“The only one I’m missing is from 2002, which depicts the seal” Goodrich Balreira said on her extensive collection of Trinity Fiesta medals, “Dr. Brazil commissioned it for Trinity’s business associates, so there were only 50 ever made.”

Student groups such as the Cat Alliance have also been designing and releasing their own feline-inspired medals for over ten years.

Trinity and its professors are involved with many institutions off campus. For example, Trinity’s Department of Education has worked with The Winston School for over 25 years.

“[Collecting their medals is] a great way to honor the partnerships we have,” Haynes Smith said.

To build a collection, all you have to do is go out, explore and serve the community; you’ll quickly find that many of your favorite businesses offer them. People can also buy their medals from the Fiesta Store, where you can find and purchase Fiesta-brand medals and other unique ones. The Fiesta Store can be found on Main St., at their North Star location, at the original location on Broadway or online.

The Fiesta Store even advertises a medal of Jesus wearing a Spurs baseball cap and shirt and sporting some dope shades, combining various aspects of San Antonio’s vibrant culture.

In addition to supporting public institutions and local businesses, a big part of Fiesta is charity, notably for HIV/AIDS prevention. Cornyation, a theatrical satire of the Coronation debutante pageant, takes its roots from the city’s LGBTQ+ community; in the spirit of HIV/AIDS prevention, there are even condom-themed medals to support the cause.

What kind of medals will you get this Fiesta?

Maria Zaharatos

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