EDITORIAL: Fiestas and freedom

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By The Staff

It’s hard to describe the Fiestas de Las Vegas in only a few words and do it justice. One can look at the schedule and see a wide variety of activities and events — a parade, a reína’s baile, a holy mass, a fishing expedition, a run/walk, a tribute to veterans, fireworks, street dancing and lots and lots of musica — which begs the question, what ties all this together?

It’s a combination of artistic expression, history and tradition that ties the fiestas together into a cohesive celebration. Rooted in Hispanic culture, the fiestas are 121 years old this year.

Of course, fiestas occur all over this region of the country, but one unique feature for Las Vegas’ fiestas is the tie to Independence Day. Cipriano Aguilar, historian and emcee for the fiestas, made mention of this in his Fiesta Guide writeup about the history of the Las Vegas celebration. When New Mexico was still a relatively early addition to the U.S., the local Jesuit publication Revista Catolica ran an article in Spanish about the significance of the Fourth of July, the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War. Aguilar notes that the article led to the flying of American flags by merchants around the plaza on July 3 and a High Mass at Our Lady of Sorrows Church the next day, “thanking God for all the gifts bestowed on the American citizens during the past century.” That evening, people gathered in the plaza to celebrate and enjoy some fireworks — and the Las Vegas fiestas were born.

Most American communities on this upcoming Independence Day holiday will celebrate this nation’s birthday in far more homogenous ways — with cookouts and fireworks being chief among the great American traditions. But here in Las Vegas, we’ll enjoy all that and a whole lot more. We will celebrate a rich cultural heritage with traditional music and dance — and by honoring people such as Antonia Apodaca, this year’s parade marshal and “a legend in her own time” because of the Spanish music she keeps alive. Now that’s an American celebration!

Diversity is Las Vegas’ strength, and our fiestas keep us grounded. This region was once the home of a variety of Native Americans, but then came Spanish settlers, then U.S. conquerors. It’s a bittersweet history, one that includes violence, struggle, oppression and restoration — and basically a happy ending, since we are all Americans now. You can feel all this in Fiestas de Las Vegas.

This year’s theme is Nuestras Tradiciones, Nuestros Tesoros — Our Traditions, Our Treasures. It’s an appropriate theme, because traditions and treasures are typically celebrated here every year at this time.

So on this Independence Day, bring along a lawn chair, sit back and enjoy the fiestas. Listen to music steeped in history, culture and freedom —trumpeting that which is great about our land. There’s no greater celebration in Las Vegas.