Cartas- Letters from Home

Fiesta Feed

Old Spanish Days - The Last Dance

The following account given by Mr. Alfred 1837,  gives an excellent idea of some of the customs prevailing in the pueblo at that time:

Within nearly every house was a guitar,  and when evening came and twilight darkened, from all parts of the pueblo were heard the sounds of music and rich melodious voices.

There was something distinctly characteristic in their songs, in most of which there was a minor tone of sweet plaintiveness.  When the lamps were hung and the guitars and violins sounded the waltz, light hearts beat and merry peals of laughter floated through the old California homes.

Lissom forms glided gracefully through the halls.   Dark, velvety eyes looked words unspoken.  The hours passed rapidly by,  and before the last dance had been stepped and the last soft glance given - the bells of the old Mission tower had sounded the matin call.

Those were halcyon days in the fairest spot in a lotus land...

~Walter Hawley, The Early Days of Santa Barbara, California, 1920

Old Spanish Days - Fiesta Children's Parade

Fiesta Girl

On Saturday, August 6, 2010, Santa Barbara's children gathered on State Street to continue another of the City's favorite Fiesta traditions: El Desfile de los Niños - the Old Spanish Days' Children's Parade.

Children's Parade 30

Each August, The City of Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation Department organizes the Children's Parade, a Fiesta tradition that began 80 years ago.  It's a small-town, local parade that is one of the highlights of the annual Old Spanish Days event.

For many days and months, the town has been preparing for this special day.  And on Fiesta Saturday, before the parade begins, people begin to gather near the corner of  State and Sola Streets. 

You'll see whole families - brothers, sisters,

Children's Parade 4

and cousins...

Groups of friends arrive, dressed in costumes worn, in some cases, by their parents or grandparents when they were young parade participants....

There are community youth groups and organizations who participate every year,

....along with dance troupes and musical groups like our local Santa Barbara Youth Mariachis


If you arrive before the parade begins, you will meet lots of interesting might meet a Mexican charro who has a song in his heart,

Children's Parade 13

some beautiful ballerinas,

....a junior policeman who has a special badge and a silver key (he really did - he showed them to me)...


Children's Parade 21

or even a beautiful girl in a red dress,  tossing bright confetti with great Fiesta enthusiasm into the gray  morning sky.

Children's Parade 17

All week, you have seen the dancers at the De la Guerra Mercado, at the Mission, at the El Paseo...they are ready, once again, to entertain the crowd...

Children's Parade 12

Parents and sponsors help to put the finishing touches on costumes and floats; musicians tune their instruments.

Everyone waits patiently for the parade to begin....

Children's Parade .31

Finally, after much anticipation, at precisely 10:00am, the Old Spanish Days Flower Girls greet the audience that lines both sides of  State Street.  The girls toss fresh flowers and greetings of "Viva la Fiesta!" to the crowd.

The children  take to the street....the 80th annual Desfile de los Niños has begun.

Local dance schools pass by in large numbers,

having practiced tirelessly for an entire year to prepare for the event.  Some of the costumes are made by family members, and others are imported from Mexico or Spain.

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We see old friends who participate in the parade every year,  like the Danza Azteca from Los Angeles,

Children's Parade Danza Azteca 11

the talented  Santa Barbara Youth Mariachi group, and

our local  Santa Barbara Children's Creative Project.

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And there are lots and lots of on foot, on scooters, on skates, on floats and in wagons.  There are kids with goats, horses, or dogs, or their favorite stuffed animal.

You'll see them with their dads and uncles who pull or push them in floats and wagons, on donkeys and carts,  along the parade route.  Moms, aunts, and grandmas join in the procession.   The whole town cheers for the children who bask in the attention and accolades.

Children's Parade Lowrider 2

The floats are colorful and imaginative.

The announcer introduces the children and their families, some of whom have been here for six, eight, even eleven generations.

For many, their family's heritage as residents of Santa Barbara stretches back several hundred years.  The names of their ancestors are  interwoven into the names of our streets and buildings.  The colorful legends and stories that belong to our city, belong to them as family history.

These are the grandchildren,  great-great grandchildren, great-great-great grandchildren of Chumash, Spanish, and Mexican residents, and of the earliest American settlers, along with families of  Italian, Japanese, Chinese, German, Swiss, or Portuguese heritage, and the many others who have come to call  Santa Barbara county "home".

Each year, the parade announcer welcomes the newest participants, children who are appearing in the parade for the first time.  

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El Desfile de los Niños brings young Santa Barbarans into the fold of traditions and memories their families have treasured for generations.

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Join us, and you might even see this year's Spirit of Fiesta pass by...

Children's Parade Spirit of Fiesta

...and a Spirit yet to come, all on the same street.

For more photos of the Children's Parade, click here

Old Spanish Days - Santa Barbara's Fiesta

Viva La!

A benison of bright confetti - a constant, colorful rain - falls in drifts beneath a sweet blue August sky.  Every plaza, street corner, and balcony has been favored by days of music - a constant stream of  Spanish, Mexican, and western tunes continues to flow.   A fragrant breeze carries the scent of a hundred special delicacies - roasted corn, bírria tacos, tamales,  salsa fresca, and more - from busy mercados and restaurants.   Visitors arrive, families meet with friends and together,  the City celebrates.

Despite my own jubilation during Fiesta week each and every August, I know that Old Spanish Days has its detractors.   There are those avoid the event and claim that it is a riotous holiday that glosses over the wrongs, conflicts and  battles that have played out on the stage of our city's history. 

Like any city in the world, the unfolding of each century has been beautiful - and gruesome - by turns.   Southern California is not a homogeneous society, nor is Santa Barbara.   From every corner of the world, from every culture and climate, people have come to fulfill their dreams.  Diversity is a recipe for drama and tension.

Santa Barbara - like all of Southern California - has a history that is vivid and intense, rich and gloriously textured.  It is an amalgam of every bright dawn - and every dark day, of every kindness, and every atrocity. 

My city is a place of lights and shadows, of triumphs and concessions.  The course of humanity, in every place,  continues to sinuate  from one generation to the next - noble and fearless, domineering and harsh;  creative and transcendent,  base and hard. 

As I think about the past, I imagine our future, too.  In a hundred years,  the city will, no doubt, look much different than today.

De la Guerra Pepper Tree

But I hope that in 100 years, Santa Barbarans and visitors will still gather for Fiesta.  I hope they buy fish tacos, or roasted corn from the vendors in the Plaza, and sit on  the steps of City Hall while enjoying their lunch.  I hope their August afternoon is shaded then, as ours is now,  by the same giant California Pepper Tree that has graced the plaza for more than 200 years,  witness to countless fiestas and feasts.

I hope that vendors will continue to offer colorful hats, fans, flowers, shirts, dresses, and shawls, evocative accoutrement that link each new Fiesta to a former one. 

And I hope that families will continue to create and sell cascarones that create a whirlwind of color and make laughter visible.

I hope that Fiesta will continue to inspire every senorita to pin a flower in her hair, for at least one day a year.   (This year, my favorite vendors are Lilia and Juan.  You can find them on the 800 block of State Street.)

A hundred years from now, I hope there are dancers who will train with veteranas, like our own Linda Vega, Kathy Cota, Antoinette Lopez, and others, who embody the high art of dance and music - and instill their gift in others.   I hope the adobe walls in Santa Barbara will continue to echo with stacatto dance steps and the sharp radiance of  snapping castanets.

I hope that when those young performers pause in the hallway and wait to take the stage, they are able to stand beneath historic photos of  Fiesta dancers who passed their traditions and  their art to a new generation.

El Paseo Dancers Thurs 19

It's not that I am not inured to the lamentations of life.  They are visited upon us all, often in great, overwhelming cascades. 

But I am availed of a great and humbling joy at the common events in life - of celebrating, in spite of it all....

And that is what I choose for today.

I delight in seeing the statue of Father Serra (a man burdened with an immense historic role and its consequences),  that looks out toward the Santa Barbara coastline, while very modern girls on cell phones primp and dress for their dance.  Despite all the machinations of history, they are young, they are strong, they are disciplined, they are beautiful.  

They dance.

Fiesta Dancers Prepare

Even the bright banners that adorn the streets at Fiesta portray a shadowed history.  They depict the tower of Saint Barbara, for whom our city is named.   According to legend, young, beautiful St. Barbara was beheaded by her own father when he learned she had chosen Christianity over her paternal pagan religion.  

 The course of human events proves to be inelegant and merciless....

And beautiful and hopeful...precious. 

I imagine that 100 years from now, we all - even Fiesta detractors - may be judged harshly in a retrospective light.

But I hope the future will embrace a holographic view of our present day, temper our failings with our best efforts,  our progress, our redemptions....

....and I hope they will choose to celebrate - as we have, again, for another year.

Viva la Fiesta 2010.....

and Viva la Fiesta 2110~

More Fiesta photos available, here....