HemisFair '68 Revisited: A Half Century Later
Fifty years ago, HemisFair '68 opened its gates. The international extravaganza, held at the heart of the city, opened on April 6, 1968, and closed six months later on Oct. 6th.
Robin Racquet's HemisFair experience began when her mom saw an ad in the paper for guides who spoke Spanish.
"Well, I majored in Spanish at Texas Tech, and I was pretty fluent because I lived with a family down in San Luis Potosi (Mexico)," she said.
Anastacio Bueno also had applied to work at HemisFair, and in the interview with a recruiter, he had the perfect response to a critical question.
“He said, 'Do you speak a foreign language?' And I said, 'yes, I do.' He said, 'Well, which one?' I said, 'English,' " Bueno said.
Spanish was his first language, he was hired and then Bueno asked what job he was hired for.
“He says, 'You're going to be a VIP slash translator.' I didn't know what a VIP was," Bueno said.
The new employees soon found that the sparking clean new world they were working in at HemisFair couldn’t keep out real world tragedies.
Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated only a few days before opening day, and Democratic presidential candidate Robert Kennedy was killed two months later.
"It was a rough period,” Raquet said. “And, of course, we were young people, and we were impressionable and … it took its toll on us. But we had to kind of, you know, pull our pants up and keep on smiling."
Along with being guides, Raquet and her colleagues were also part of the entertainment, and they had to wear a futuristic uniform as they performed.
"It was a black and white geometric print — heavy, heavy cotton fabric,” Raquet said. “When we first started out, they had us in these little black kind of beanie-looking hats and they had us in a lined jacket. And so it wasn't too long before we found out that we just couldn't tolerate that — all that fabric."
The uniform designers, however, didn’t seem to have considered the Texas summer heat.
"We found out that we were expected to be in the parade every day — all the way through the fair — with a band, the official HemisFair band," Raquet said.
But their primary job was to guide VIPs around the park and the city. Bueno has no problem choosing his favorite very important person.
“I can just tell you unequivocally she was devastatingly beautiful," he said.
He was assigned to guide Grace Kelly and her husband Prince Rainier of Monaco. His first mission: Take the prince and princess downtown to shop for western wear. The princess looked through displays of scarves and then asked a salesman if he had any more in the back.
"And the salesman looks at her. He says, 'Well, just a minute, honey.' I guess he didn't know what the protocol was,” Bueno said. “Oh my God, she just thought that was the most amazing thing. And she ... got the prince over there and says, 'Let me tell you what just happened.' And then she tells me, 'You know how long it's been since somebody called me honey?' "
Bueno learned later that the royals had a specific reason for the shopping trip.
"They were buying all this western gear because two days later (Lyndon B. Johnson) was giving them a barbecue over at the ranch," he said.
Bueno spent two days with the royals, and he said the entire time Grace lived up to her name.
"They just wanted to be treated like regular human beings," Bueno said.
Then, on Oct. 6, 1968, HemisFair closed its gates.
When it was all over for Raquet, she said the closing was quite emotional. And looking back, she said HemisFair changed everything she knew about the world — as well as her hometown.
“It was a sea change. After HemisFair, nothing was going to be the same. And, we looked at ourselves in a different way and, certainly, the rest of the world did (too). I'll never forget it."
Fifty years later, Bueno said he still feels his time at HemisFair was one of the high points of his life.
"When you're a young man — 19, 20, 21 — you should go and see the world,” he said. “I didn't have the money or the wherewithal to go see the world, but the world came to me."
Jack Morgan can be reached at email@example.com