Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Cultural diversity still 'American'

link Tom McDonald

State columnist

When I first came to New Mexico nearly 10 years ago, I had never been to a fiesta. Since then, I’ve been to more than I can count.

I wish I could say it’s because I wanted to embrace the culture I had moved into, but really it was because my daughter did. Several years ago, when she was in middle school, she joined a Mexican folk dancing group that often went to community fiestas to perform. It made for some great outings and the old sentimental daddy in me misses them still.

Plus, I have the advantage of living in a town with one of the biggest and longest lasting fiestas in New Mexico — the annual 4th of July Fiestas in Las Vegas. Started in 1888, it’s full of great music in a well-kept, green and shady Plaza Park, and it goes on for days at a time.

But the small community fiestas, the ones that take place in unincorporated villages like Villanueva, San Miguel and elsewhere, are more true to the origins of the traditional fiesta. That’s where the music and food is homegrown and the crowds are more like family.

At the larger fiestas, in places like Las Vegas, Taos and Espanola, that “downhome” feel is a bit diluted with professional musicians promoting their bands and CDs while the food comes in with traveling vendors. Large or small, they’re all fun, but for the smaller communities, they are the event of the year.

The Mexicans have had the greatest influence on U.S. fiestas, which are mostly in New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and California, but really they all grew out of Spain, migrating from there to Central and South America centuries ago. They often celebrate religious or national holidays, such as Mexico’s Independence Day, or Grito de Dolores, on Sept. 16 each year. But I’m not sure if that’s true for New Mexico’s fiestas, since they seem to be spread out through the summer months and into the fall.

But really, they’re a holiday in themselves. The bigger ones include a parade, a pageant to select a reína (queen), fireworks, a mass and more.

Unfortunately, politics and power sometimes enter into the equation. In Las Vegas a few years ago, there was major power struggle for control of the Fiesta Council and its money, and it got so bad the city, the fiesta’s primary sponsor, stepped in, organized its own committee and took it all over.

It took a long time for the U.S. to accept New Mexico and its diversity of cultures — that’s a big reason why we’re the 47th state to be admitted into the union. Maybe that part of our history has made us a bit hypersensitive to what is considered “American.” You’d think we could move beyond such restrictive thinking.

Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. Contact him at: