BACK TO THE BEGINNING
Lia Parker, the very first dancer chosen as Spirit of Fiesta in 1949, was named Fiesta Parade grand marshal to commemorate Spirit of Fiesta’s 70th anniversary.
During a press conference Friday morning at the Santa Barbara Carriage and Western Art Museum, Old Spanish Days La Presidenta Barbara Carroll said she was “delighted” that Ms. Parker accepted the title and will be riding in a carriage during the Fiesta Parade on Aug. 2.
“She didn’t want to be on horseback with me … but we’ll get her safely into a carriage and she’s going to enjoy it, and as far as I’m concerned she can be in any parade that she wants from now on,” Ms. Carroll said.
Ms. Parker told the News-Press that it was an “honor” to be chosen as grand marshal, which she only learned that very morning. She added that her mother, an Italian immigrant and enthusiastic lover of Fiesta, would have been thrilled to see her chosen.
“I’m glad for my mother’s sake, because it meant so much to her,” she said.
Though she spent many years away from all Fiesta activities, Ms. Parker’s involvement with the festival has “bloomed” since 2013, when she reconnected with Old Spanish Days through her retirement home Garden Court. There, she one day mentioned that she was the first Spirit of Fiesta and a woman at the home overheard her. That woman also happened to have a daughter who was that year’s Spirit, and through her Ms. Parker’s activity in Fiesta resumed.
Ms. Parker attended the April 13 auditions that ended with 16-year-old Sophia Cordero being named Spirit of Fiesta and 10-year-old Paloma Valenzuela chosen as Junior Spirit.
Back in 1949 the choice of Spirit of Fiesta wasn’t as organized. Spirits and Junior Spirits are now chosen a few months in advance of the event, but Ms. Parker wasn’t told she would be Spirit until a few days before the parade.
“My mom said something like, ‘You’re going to be Spirit of Fiesta.’ It was like three days before the big parade. … They sprung it on me and I didn’t have a dress. I had to borrow a dress that belonged to an adult, and that was a huge deal for a 12-year-old.”
Suddenly thrusting Ms. Parker into activities seemed to be her mother’s nature. Ms. Parker credits her mom for not only getting her involved in Fiesta, but dancing in general. After Ms. Parker suffered a broken leg that refused to properly heal, her mother placed her in dance lessons to strengthen it.
“She felt that instead of hiding away and just favoring it, that exercise would help,” Ms. Parker recalled.
Ms. Parker looked back fondly on her time as Spirit and said dancing in the parade was fun but challenging. Though not a major aspect of the parade today, Ms. Parker said that military bands used to be a prominent part of the event and that she even danced with one behind her. Flamenco dancing to military band music wasn’t easy and for a second she thought, “Oh no, this isn’t possible,” but she let “common sense” and her “positive will” take over to meet the challenge.
“You think, ‘I’m here to give the best I can,’ and you just make yourself strong,” she said.
While being Spirit of Fiesta was fun while it lasted, this giving of oneself to make others happy is what Ms. Parker still carries from that experience.
“You learn not to think of yourself, you learn to think of other people… You really are a symbol for something and it just forces you out of your own little cubby hole, and that’s very important to anybody,” she said.