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News : On the Street 

Rosita’s retirement rocks

If you had called me last Thursday evening, April 20, 2006, and if I had been incredibly rude (not silenced my phone) and answered, you would have heard a mesh of hooting, hollering, clapping, drink orders, and mariachis in the background as we tried to converse.

No, I was not attending an orgiastic pre-Fiesta bash.

On Thursday evening I was at Newforest Estates Retirement Community, covering the dedication of a patio to Rosita Fernandez.

Orgiastic it was not — but there was an open bar.

Elderly community residents in electric wheelchairs, gray-haired women in flowered hats and puebla dresses, and retirement-community staff (men in Hawaiian shirts, women with crepe-paper flowers adorning their hair) were all there to celebrate Rosita Fernandez, a world-famous singer originally from Mexico, whom Lady Bird Johnson once called “San Antonio’s First Lady of Song.”

Before the mariachi band — Los Charros — toured the dining area, the reception’s music was provided by a three-piece band playing everything from “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” to “Good Night Irene” — not exactly a smooth transition from the driving music I had chosen for the trip to Newforest. (“Doolittle” to Hank Williams? Bad idea.)

Residents danced to the country, and occasionally Tejano, music. A Newforest resident played harmonica and sang on a few numbers, then dismissed himself with “It’s past my bedtime.”

On a walkway outside, I spoke with Rosita’s son, Raul Fernandez, about the dedication. “We’re just very excited. We’re very thankful,” he said.

Raul later accepted the patio dedication plaque on behalf of Rosita, who was not feeling well.

Just as I was getting bummed about not meeting the guest of honor, a delightful woman who was seated across from me reminded me of the pertinence of Rosita’s legacy, particularly because of the immigration conflict.

Born in Mexico in 1925, Rosita and her family (she was one of 16 siblings!) moved to San Antonio when she was 9. Later, she was a member of the Trio San Miguel, and one of the first Mexican women on record. Her voice transcended cultural boundaries; she sang to everyone from presidents to the crowds at NIOSA.

As it turns out, Rosita, got married at Newforest last year.

“I’m about the only gringo in the family,” said her husband Charles, who decided to live at Newforest the moment he saw Rosita.

Margaritas, music, and tales of new love. Not a bad party.

- Ashley Lindstrom

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