When it comes to Fiestas de Las Vegas, Paul Cordova is something of an expert. Even though he’s from Albuquerque.
This week’s festivities marked the 50th year Cordova has sold refreshments in Plaza Park. On both sides of the Plaza he had booths selling candy apples, funnel cakes and other goodies as part of his business, Duke City Concessions.
He started selling the treats when he was 12, during the days when his father ran a carnival in front of today’s Plaza Hotel.
“Back in the old days, you could barely walk in the Plaza. People were packed in here like sardines,” said Cordova, 62.
These days, he believes things such a casinos are driving away people from events such as Fiestas, which is now in its 120th year.
For some years, the event was getting better annually, but attendance has leveled off over the last decade, he said.
Like many businesses, Cordova had to raise his prices because of the huge increases in the cost of gasoline.
“So far, we’re on par this year. Today (Sunday) we’ll have to find out for sure. There’s good entertainment today, but few are listening.”
No one could complain about the weather over Fiestas weekend. Las Vegas didn’t see a drop of rain until the last couple of hours during Fiestas. Because July 4 was on a Friday, many people could easily get the three days off to attend the festivities.
Inez Gallegos-Lujan, president of the Fiesta Council, said the biggest crowds attended to see Darren Cordova on Friday and Tobias Ren on Saturday at Plaza Park. She estimated that around 5,000 people packed the area when those headliners came to perform.
“We’ve had so many compliments. The Fiestas are awesome. They liked our organization,” said Gallegos-Lujan, who was in her first year as president. “I want to thank everyone. We haven’t had any major problems.”
Las Vegas’ Jonas Baca, owner of the Tortilla Cone stand and who has been a vendor for the last three decades, agreed with Gallegos-Lujan.
“It’s been really good. We can’t complain,” he said.
Sixteen-year-old Devynne Gallegos forked over some cash to buy a beach towel with the inscription “2pac,” in memory of the popular rapper killed in 1996, at the stand partly owned by Johnny Chavez of Albuquerque.
Chavez said business hasn’t been as good as last year because he has suffered from an increase in fuel costs and so have his customers.
“We’re selling, but not like last year,” he said.
Cipriano Aguilar served as master of ceremonies throughout the three days in the park — something he’s done since 1962.
“Fiestas went great. We have so many people. I didn’t see any fights or accidents in the park,” he said. “People have seen a variety of entertainers, and they enjoy that.”
Troy Denison, sales manager at Plaza Hotel, which benefits greatly from the next-door Fiestas, said the annual event was busier than the last couple of years.
“I think that’s because people stayed closer to home because of the gas prices. Everybody seems to be having a good time. I really think this went well,” he said.
Jackie Conway, 23, a 2003 Robertson High School graduate and a 2007 University of New Mexico graduate, was named Fiestas queen, beating four other contestants. The runnerup was June Duran; the other three were Courtney Martinez, Carmela Montoya and Rita Raya.
“I’m very honored. I hope to be a great ambassador and represent my community well,” she said during her coronation ceremony at Our Lady of Sorrows Church.
Wiping a tear from his eye, Jackie’s father, Leroy Conway, said, “I’m very, very proud, and when something like this happens, and you love your daughter as much as I love mine, you just can’t help tearing up a little.”
The annual Fiestas parade attracted thousands in Old Town and New Town. Many statewide politicians joined in, including Steve Pearce, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate. Also showing up were the two major-party candidates in northern New Mexico’s congressional race, Republican Dan East and Democrat Ben Ray Lujan. as well as Republican Mel Root and Democrat Richard Vigil, the incumbent, in the race for District 70 state representative, which includes Las Vegas.
Even a man with a Barack Obama mask walked with the Democrats in the parade.
Many goodies were passed out — from plastic water bottles and New Mexico flags to popsicles and pencils.
Wendy Armijo, coordinator of the San Miguel DWI program, distributed plastic bottles with her program’s name on them. However, she told people not to pour any adult beverages into them.
The parade had 45 entries.
The parade winners were as follows:
• Royalty floats: first, Taos; second, Espaola; and third, Las Vegas.
• Music: first, Los Charros; second, Three’s a Crowd; and third, Los Corazones de Mora.
• Organization: first, Peewee (minor) baseball Cardinals; second, San Miguel DWI Program; and third, 11- to 12-year-old Las Vegas Little League All-Stars.
• Commercial: first, Alta Vista Regional Hospital; second, Furniture-n-More; and third, KFUN.
• Individual: first, Manuel Garcia, 1962 Chevrolet; second, Arthur Mondragon, float thanking the community; and Cathy Bustamante Ulibarri, 1967 Chevrolet Camaro.