September 14, 2001

Carlsbad's Fiesta Del Barrio: Uniting People and Honoring Local History

By Yvette tenBerge

This Sunday, September 16, some in San Diego will celebrate Mexican Independence Day with the usual performances by mariachi music bands and Ballet Folklorico dance groups. Although these pieces of Mexican culture have become staples of today's Mexican-American holidays, the Fiesta Del Barrio in Carlsbad has added a twist to their celebration that is drawing people by the thousands.

The streets of North-West Carlsbad will be packed this Sunday. From 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., throngs of locals and out-of-towners will make a special trip to the fiesta which will be held in the area surrounding the corner of Roosevelt Street and Walnut Avenue, the location where Carlsbad was founded more than 100 years ago by Mexican agricultural workers.

Aztec Dancers take visitors to la Fiesta del Barrion Carlsbad back in time.

Julio Ramirez, President of the Executive Committee for the Fiesta and a Carlsbad resident for 18 years, explains that, although there will be over 80 booths, rides, attractions such as a rock climbing wall and eight popular bands performing throughout the day, the real focus of this alcohol-free, family focused event is local history. "This fiesta is aimed at celebrating history and culture. There are a lot of families who have been in this community for over 100 years, so this is a celebration of the history of these families," says Mr. Ramirez. "As a matter of fact, we are holding our festival on the very four-corners on which commerce was first started in the city of Carlsbad."

Although he admits that watching the Aztec Dancers or "window shopping" from booth to booth would be incentive enough for many people to attend the fiesta, he urges all visitors to take a stroll through the Barrio Museum. "The museum will be free and open to everyone. People will be able to look at pictures of the area and of the community that date back over 100 years. These pictures have captions with dates and explanations," says Mr. Ramirez. "A visit to this museum will give visitors a better understanding of their own history."

Allan Manzano serves as Treasurer of the Committee and has lived in the area for 10 years. Although this is his first year of being involved with the fiesta, he has already organized the group into a corporation, thus enabling them to attain non-profit status.  Along with ensuring that the festival will now be an annual event, his work will help the Committee establish scholarships for local youth.

According to Mr. Manzano, the cost of putting together such a festival is roughly $20,000. They were able to meet this goal thanks to community contributions, fund- raisers and financial backing from the City of Carlsbad.

When asked about his reasons for dedicating his time to making the fiesta a success, he cites the important role Mexicans played in shaping the history of this area. "Until fairly recently, Carlsbad was essentially a group of Mexican-American, agricultural families. As time has passed, there has become less and less awareness of the barrio, which was really the core of the city," says Mr. Manzano. He speaks of the times before Texas and California were annexed into the United States. He speaks of the times before the Mexican-American War. "I think it is very important to remember this, and for people to understand the old, long-term traditions that go beyond the missions."

(left to right) Ofie Escobedo and Connie Trejo

Ofelia "Ofie" Escobedo is the woman who many feel has been the glue that has bound the Carlsbad barrio community together so tightly. Ms. Escobedo was born and raised on the corner of Roosevelt and Walnut. She and her sister, Connie Trejo, now own the property and the corner store that her mother opened in 1943, but they have updated it, added a menu that has addicted customers filing in from morning to evening, and have changed the name to "Lola's Market."

It was in 1991 that Ms. Escobedo began gathering the material that would make up the Barrio Museum, located across the street from Lola's Market. The walls of the one-room building are adorned with meticulously matted newspaper articles, photographs and letters, as well as colorful blankets and crafts. Each of these items belongs or belonged to members of the Latino families whose lives transformed Carlsbad from a tiny, tent-city into a bustling barrio. "Our museum is a history lesson for the younger generations who are not aware of many of the accomplishments of the early settlers. This history is not in the pages of history books, but it is important. They need to know that Mexican agricultural workers provided food and sustenance to our community, but they were never given credit," says Ms. Escobedo. "This barrio community would like to make sure that this group is acknowledged and recognized."

Although Ms. Escobedo was and still is horrified by Tuesday's acts of destruction in Manhattan and Washington D.C., she reaches through her sorrow to take a different approach than some of the other local businesses and organizations that have canceled their Mexican Independence Day celebrations. "We are going to go ahead because we do not want to be another victim. We will continue with our celebration of life. We need to have something positive, we need to continue forward in the hopes that events like ours will unite communities and nations. We hope it can teach younger generations more respect, more togetherness and less violence," says Ms. Escobedo. "The festival is very important because it will reconfirm that people of all nations, classes and races can stand together in a moment of tragedy and help each other."

Mr. Ramirez adds a few words, summing up the experience he hopes to share with all visitors this Sunday. "In this day and age it is difficult for Latino communities to be noticed. As members of the community, we are very proud of our barrio. It is very clean, and we try and tell our children and young adults to help us preserve what we have. It is a place that we respect as we would respect our own homes. We can go back, drive through the barrio and reflect on grandma, grandpa and on our childhoods. My grandmother and grandfather built the first house on one of those four corners. We feel deep roots in our heart that extend out beyond ourselves," says Mr. Ramirez. "We have something really special here in Carlsbad, and our board is very enthusiastic to preserve it."

Where: the corner of Roosevelt and Walnut in Carlsbad
When: Sunday, September 16
Time: 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
For information call Lola's Market at (760) 434-2191

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