FIESTA 2019: ‘BEST DAY OF THE YEAR’
There is nothing small about the official opening of Old Spanish Days Fiesta at the Santa Barbara Mission, despite its name La Fiesta Pequeña — which in Spanish means the small party.
Nobody knows this bit of information better than Victoria Sanchez — who made sure her visit home to Santa Barbara from Washington, D.C. (where she now resides) aligned with the dates for Fiesta, including La Fiesta Pequeña.
“I made it all work out,” Ms. Sanchez told the News-Press with a smile.
Ms. Sanchez was not the only one in the family who was happy to be back in Santa Barbara. On Ms. Sanchez’s hip was her daughter, Viviana, who was observing the performers and the 7,000-strong crowd from behind the curtain of her mother’s hair. Ms. Sanchez bounced and swayed with the two-year-old, who occasionally clapped and giggled. This was Viviana’s first Fiesta Pequeña, and she was in for a treat.
The program for Wednesday night’s event included about 20 performances, from opera singers to flamenco dancers. One group of performers even had members who were wielding machetes in their dance routine.
Xochipilli de Santa Barbara members, whose men danced with machetes and women twirled in colorful dressed, dazzled the spectators.
The colors and the excitement that the attendees experienced were a result of a year-long planning process. Old Spanish Days lays out Fiesta with a team of more than 35 directors and, of course, volunteers.
One of the volunteers was Daisy Ella Foreman, who became a Fiesta flower girl at the age of nine. After four years of passing flowers to Santa Barbarans, Daisy became la señorita last year.
The flower girls, according to Daisy, look up to las señoritas, who are in some ways their mentors. That seemed to be the case indeed. While Daisy was speaking to the News-Press, she was approached on several occasions by an energetic flower girl with questions. Daisy, patient and gentle, answered the flower girl’s questions.
For Daisy, volunteering as a flower girl is “a great way to get to know the community and to show the Fiesta love and happiness.”
The hours contributed by volunteers such as Daisy and other members of the Fiesta team result in the week-long party. For Fiesta El Primer Vice Presidente Erik Davis, the sweat and the effort were worth it.
“This is the best day of the year, and we are ready to kick off Fiesta and Fiesta Pequeña. It’s the best show in town all year long,” said Mr. Davis.
This five-day celebration is a cornerstone of Santa Barbara’s identity, and this year’s Fiesta is five years short of being a century year old.
“This is 95 years of Old Spanish Days Fiesta tradition,” said Mr. Davis, “where we light up the Mission, and we dance.”
And lit up was the Santa Barbara Mission, which came alive with the lights and the fluttering bodies of the dancers.
Out of the performers, only one entered the stage through the main door of the Santa Barbara Mission: Spirit of Fiesta Sophia Cordero. Sophia glided towards the crowd with a cat-like stealth behind her white shawl. Her dress matched the shawl, and spectators were left wondering if Sophia really were an ethereal spirit.
The clacks of Sophia’s dancing shoes snapped spectators out of the initial trance only to place them under the spell of her movements. As someone who has been dancing for about 15 years, Sophia commanded both the stage and the audience’s gaze, twirling and snapping with the music. Like a magician with her hat, Sophia used the shawl to produce dance moves that hypnotized the audience.
As a performer in the first half of La Fiesta Pequeña, Sophia set a high bar for the rest of the performers. Fortunately for the attendees, the singers and dancers who followed more than kept up with the Spirit.
Nicky Monreal’s vocals blew the audience away as she belted out the classic song “La Cigarra.” Ms. Monreal, 19, swayed to the music as she sang, without frills distracting from her impressive voice.
With the free show and the beautiful scenery, it was difficult to not have a smile on one’s face. The happiness, in Ms. Sanchez’s eyes, brings the community together and connects “people outside of social media.”
Father Larry Gosselin, riding on the wave of happiness in the crowd, reminded the group to feel the love of the night and of Fiesta. The love is only beginning.