Why San Marcos is the Mermaid Capital of Texas

From festivals to environmentalism, these half-fish are making a comeback.

By Alexandra HartSeptember 16, 2016 11:16 am

Every kid has a dream of what they want to be when they grow up. There’s astronauts, firefighters, veterinarians, and … mermaids?

Nowadays, there are all kinds of ways to make those mermaid dreams come true. The mythical creatures are having a moment right now. Just do a quick search on Buzzfeed for the word and you’ll find all kinds of ways to live your best mermaid life, from home décor to hair and makeup tips.

Want to take the dream further? Head to San Marcos.

The city once known mostly for its outlet malls wants to be the mermaid capital of Texas. That’s why right now, they’re holding their first annual Mermaid Week.

July Moreno is the founder of the San Marcos Mermaid Society, which is hosting the event. She created the society as an initiative to bring attention to the city’s growing arts community, as well as to protect San Marcos’ natural resources.

“It was really the idea of bringing the mermaid symbol back for San Marcos, in a way that we could see her in a whole new light,” Moreno says. “The vision behind mermaid society is to strengthen connectivity in our community, between the arts community, our river stewardship community, as well as the local living economy.”

The mermaid might seem like an unlikely mascot for San Marcos – a landlocked city in the Texas Hill Country, hours from the Gulf coast. But she actually has a long history as a symbol of San Marcos that goes back to the 1950s, when a roadside attraction called Aquarena Springs opened.

“It was the amusement park that people came to from around the world,” Moreno says. “It was the only amusement park that had an underwater theater, and in this underwater theater you were able to see aqua maids. … They were called aqua maids, but we knew them as mermaids.”

The mermaid performers were only one of the main attractions for the park – which became a fixture of the town. But after declining attendance, the park was closed and dismantled with little fanfare in the mid-1990s, taking with it a bit of the city’s identity.

“There’s not anything now, necessarily that really represents San Marcos like Aquarena once did,” Moreno says.

So to fill that void, Moreno wanted to bring back the mermaid as a symbol of the city. The inaugural Mermaid Week features mermaid events, like the Mer-tini Cocktail competition.

The celebration culminates in a Mermaid Parade Saturday morning, followed by the Mermaid Splash festival featuring local art and live music.

Of course, the festival wouldn’t be complete without real live mermaids. And while you may think mermaids don’t exist.. Well, I met one.

Maria Russo runs Sirenalia, a mermaid production company.

“I’ve always been a mermaid,” she says.

The production company has mermaid performers that do parties and events. They also craft swimmable mermaid tails. This week, Russo is leading a retreat for her fellow merpeople from around the country.

When I visit them at their cabin on the outskirts of New Braunfels, they’re already beginning their transformation – braiding tinsel into their hair, sharing tips on how to keep gemstones on underwater.

But they’re not just there to play dress up.

“Everyone that’s attending the retreat – we’re going to go down to a part of the river that’s a little dirtier, and we have mesh bags and goggles and we’re going to use our mermaid powers to swim around and fill bags with trash and take them out of the river,” Russo says.

Even then, I had to wonder: With an entire mermaid festival going on, what exactly is the appeal of being a half-fish person?

“It starts with a connection to the water,” Russo says. “I think every mermaid you meet is going to be like, ‘I feel a connection with the water.’ And then there’s this fun thing about being a character, right? It’s the same kind of thing that maybe you’d see in drag or cosplay, where you dress up and you’re someone else for a little while.”

Moreno hopes to use that enthusiasm about mermaids to create a stronger identity for San Marcos, one of the fastest growing cities in the United States.

“Mermaid Society is really the creation of a new society in San Marcos, We’re bridging the past with our present and for the future,” she says.