In front of a screen that intermittently flashed between pictures of the Mexican and American flag, a man stood in the bandshell at Stevens Park at the Garden City Community Mexican Fiesta Saturday calling to the crowd.
“Viva Mexico!” he shouted.
“Viva!” the crowd called back.
The 92nd annual fiesta was dedicated to Mexican history and culture, an early celebration of Mexican Independence Day on September 16, and organizers and onlookers leaned into that heritage, and that of other Latin, American and immigrant cultures, from the get-go.
“We’re present and we want to give back to the community and bring everyone together so that you can have a little taste of us. A little taste of what we do,” said Fiesta President Angelica Castillo Chappel.
The fiesta stretched over most of the weekend, opening with the Miss Garden City Fiesta scholarship pageant. Garden City Community College student Marissa Hernandez was crowned queen, earning a $1,000 scholarship from Valley State Bank along with her crown. As Hernandez was crowned, the GCCC Pauline Joyce Fine Arts Auditorium, packed to the breaking point with children and families spilling into the aisles, broke into applause.
“Oh my gosh. We’ve outgrown the auditorium this year,” Castillo Chappel said.
From the pageant to the fiesta’s parade the following morning, headed by parade Marshall and longtime supporter of Garden City’s Latino community Marilyn Ornelas, local businesses and entities stood alongside Hispanic and Latino clubs and organizations, coming together to celebrate a cultural heritage part of the lifeblood of Garden City.
Once the parade came to a close, the scores of attendees, which Chappel estimated at over 5,000, flowed into Stevens Park for food and festivities, packing the park to the brim for hours to come.
On the overcast day, the park was technicolor. Vibrant vendors’ tents and tablecloths spotted the lawn, and colored streamers, and flags and papel picado decorated booths and tables. Women and girls in bright, traditional dresses moved through the crowds or performed folkloric dances in front of the bandshell.
Patrons weaving through the tents and booths were met with smells of meat and smoke as vendors offered tamales, tacos, tortas, buñuelos, elotes, champurrados, raspados and pupusas, among other treats.
Both the pageant and stage presentations at the park were bilingual, switching between Spanish and English frequently. For Castillo Chappel, a Mexican immigrant, celebrating both culture was worthwhile.
“We buy the blue, and white and red (for the Fourth of July), and then for the Mexican Fiesta we buy the green, the white and the red. I just love that. It’s such a colorful mixture of you’re growing with the American culture but this is where you’re mama came from. This is where my parents came from,” Castillo Chappel said.
The fiesta spilled into other countries and cultures, Castillo Chappel said. Nicaragua, El Salvador and Costa Rica all celebrate Independence Day on September 15, and the fiesta made an effort to include other backgrounds when possible.
One of those backgrounds was evident in the several pupusa vendors, most run by churches or vendors with El Salvadoran heritage.
Reina Susana, a member of one of the church's, Mision Cristiana Elim's youth groups, worked with another youth member under their tent in the morning. She said her church had been selling pupusas at the festival for eight years and was glad to represent their culture.
“Nothing talks better than food. Nothing gets to people better than food…” Susana said. “All of the Hispanic, all of the cultures, all of the countries are united in how we all vibe off one another.”
That heritage was shared through dance as well. Garden City High School student Andrea Moya danced among her friends in the parade, an activity she said connected her to her culture.
“I feel cool that I can represent my culture. Like honored, in a way, to be part of this,” Moya said.
Castillo Chappel said she had seen many young people show an interest in the festival this year, from donning traditional clothes to being a part of the parade and performances. The youth had a “craving” for the fiesta, she said.
With political conversations regarding immigration policies and walls along the Mexican border, Castillo Chappel said the fiesta, this year donning the theme “Sin Barreras — Nuestro Orgullo,” or “Without Barriers — Our Pride,” she hoped guests would understand that Garden City welcomed everyone.
“Fiesta is cultural awareness, and we are here to celebrate our heritage but also here to celebrate different representations of our community … It’s going from generation to generation. I want it to go to the next level and to the next person but continue to celebrate who we are,” Castillo Chappel said.