Wednesday, September 19, 2012

We have the world’s best fiestas

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — Most of my best fiesta memories seem to begin in Las Cruces.
Having reached an age when childhood memories sometimes seem more vivid and accessible than where I put my keys 10 minutes ago, it’s surprising that I can’t recall a single memorable fiesta image or anecdote from my Michigan youth, and have only dim memories of interviewing lots and lots of Oregon rose queens at Portland’s annual Rose Festival.
But switch to New Mexico and my mind’s eye conjures vivid images, starting with my first visit in the 1980s, landing at the Albuquerque airport during their balloon fiesta. What a welcome!
In Santa Fe, I have fond memories of covering and attending Spanish Market, Indian Market, and best of all, the Zozobra burning fiesta, back in the golden olden days when we gathered to burn our troubles and celebrate all the tourists leaving for the season (now, many tourists come to see the big Z burn, and most locals stay home to avoid the crowds).
I’ve partied with ETs at the Roswell UFO Festival and thoroughly enjoyed Balloon Regattas at Elephant Butte, Great American Duck Races in Deming and fiestas inspired by Geronimo and Ralph Edwards in Truth or Consequences.
Let’s be honest, the best festivals on the planet are in New Mexico, and the best fiestas in New Mexico are in our territory.
The Whole Enchilada Fiesta was my very first Las Cruces festival, when I moved here in 1994. I was burned out from my days as a festival marketer in Palm Beach County, where the parties cost zillions, but weren’t that much fun, and I probably would have skipped it (and maybe missed out on all our great fiestas) if I hadn’t been recruited by the Sun-News to volunteer at a soft drink booth.
The fiesta was then in the pre-renewal Downtown Mall area and the still-shabby streets were transformed with the delicious smell of roasting chiles, and color, music, parades and fiesta-spirited people. Very nice people, I discovered. Many stopped to chat and offer tips on fun things to see and do.
I came in a very good fiesta year. The Las Cruces International Mariachi Conference started a few months after I arrived, and so did the Doña Ana Arts Council’s annual ArtWalk, which has since evolved into a monthly downtown arts Ramble, and spawned assorted other regional arts walks and fine arts festival events.
I was recently reminded that I was in on the ground floor of Día de los Muertos celebration revivals, the birth of ArtsForms February For the Love of Art Month (a whole fiesta month!) and here for the very first Border Book Festival.
My extended family, some of whom came to live here, share my fondness for our fiestas.
When I was introducing them to the wonders of the Land of Enchantment, I was particularly grateful for the contributions of Lalo Natividad and the late Richard Weeks, who founded El Grupo Cultural, credited with the revival of several traditional Borderland celebrations on the Mesilla Plaza and some new twists on several regional events, from the Mesilla Diez y Seis de Septiembre Fiesta and Cinco de Mayo to Christmas Eve on the Mesilla Plaza.
During his very first visit here, then-baby grandson Alex the Great grabbed a pair of maracas and shook them during Cinco de Mayo (and I have — and cherish — the photos that prove it).
He was about 3 when many of his Pacific Northwest family members decided to move here. I have fond memories of his first Mesilla Diez y Seis parade, when we went to watch his then teen-age aunt Tanya march with her high school band.
Continuing what I have since learned is a tradition, many in parade cars and floats flung candy to kids along the route. Alex was too little to scamper far, and we were touched when older kids collected the sweet treats and gave them to my grandson and other toddlers not big enough to compete for booty.
“People are very sweet here,” said my visiting friends and relatives.
“I told you so,” I said. “And we also have the best fiestas on the planet. Maybe even the whole solar system.”
And I have the fiesta memories to prove it.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style. Follow her on Twitter @DerricksonMoore.

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