Work of Art — Fiestas: They’ve changed

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By Art Trujillo

It seemed that the whole town made elaborate preparations for the 4th of July festivities. Certainly not to be left out, my sisters must have spent weeks perfecting their fiesta dresses, those white, lacey outfits held together at the waist, tamale-style, with a metal belt.

A brain freeze prevented me from identifying that kind of belt, suitable only for parades, linked together with big silver ovals guaranteed to leave lasting impressions around the mid-section. My wife, Bonnie, quickly came up with the term “concha belt,” with the ease we might expect from one who wears such a belt year-round.

My three sisters, Dolores, Dorothy and Bingy regarded the 4th of July Parade as they would an Emperor’s Ball, so important was it to be spiffed up on that special day.

A nun at Immaculate Conception, I heard one of my sisters report, even gave the coeds pointers on how to look presentable for the big parade, without seeming cheap, gaudy or provocative. I recall that many of the girls from our Railroad Avenue neighborhood regarded the annual parade as the highlight of the summer. Following the parade there would be music and dancing at the Plaza Park, maybe a street dance later, and a chance to run into friends from both sides of the Gallinas.

That was back in the late-40s, in my pre-pubescent days. Walking around the neighborhood, I could see crews of people putting the finishing touches on floats that would enter the next day’s parade. Teens often filled garages of the nearby Ford and Chevrolet dealerships, as some adults helped by providing the pickup or tractor that would pull the float.

In those days, there were grocery stores on almost every corner, where they’d sell out of paper napkins and Scotch tape. Each napkin needed to fit neatly into the pores of the chicken wire that covered the float.

Come the morning of the 4th and virtually every float was presentable. Some of the flatbed trucks carried bathing suit-clad queen contestants; participants rode in convertibles; a long procession of young bike riders took in the action.

Marching bands from Mora, Pecos, Santa Fe, Wagon Mound and both Las Vegas schools strutted their stuff. People cheered, turned silent and solemn when flag-bearers passed by, waved admiringly at the parade royalty and, especially the perennial grand marshal, George Maloof.

For a magical hour, it seemed, all of Las Vegas became transformed into a mesmerizing occasion. The crowds were wall-to-wall. Veterans organizations marched proudly. My aunt and uncle, who owned a car, whereas my family did not, would park it downtown, in a prime spot, overnight, in order to have a place to sit and watch the parade.

Much of yesteryear’s action took place at the rodeo grounds, on the site where Wal-Mart stands. For as long as they could, organizers tied the rodeo inextricably with the reunion of the Rough Riders, who rode with Teddy Roosevelt.

How have things changed?

Well, the reunion of the Rough Riders remains a fading memory, as are the rodeos.

The crowds don’t generally dress up much. Candy gets thrown from floats. The one marching band, from Robertson High School, treated us to its fight-song.

This time, there were far fewer floats than what we’d been accustomed to; some political candidates, fire trucks, winners of kiddie beauty contests, soldiers marching, an anthem on tape, some religious and public-interest groups, our own reinas, and even a few from places like Española and Taos.

The paucity of horses and elaborate floats failed to dim spirits of the many who took part in the three-day event. The idea of “raining on our parade” was almost literally true, as Mother Nature enriched our parched earth each day of the event, although there wasn’t rain during the actual parade.

Frequent downpours at the Plaza caused festival-goers to scatter, but they came back.

Was the welcome moisture sufficient to crack nature’s grip on the worst drought we’ve experienced in recent memory? We can hope.

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A distant relative by marriage commented that the 4th of July, Independence Day, didn’t really seem to emphasize the notion of independence and what the event should represent. “There were more signs announcing that ‘restrooms are for customers only’ than there were flags,” she said.

Strange, but people need to realize there’s a connection between a five-dollar 32-oz. container of lemonade and the need for sufficient available restrooms. In fairness, fiesta organizers set up a large portable restroom on the northeast side of the park. But the lines — often filled with young kids — were indeed long.

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A group that performed on July 6 is called the Las Vegas Summer Chorus, consisting of volunteer singers. The chorus, sponsored by the Highlands University music department and funded by the Mustard Seed program of the First Presbyterian Church, originally set out to attract middle- and high-school youths.

There being virtually no takers among youngsters, the chorus organized with a number of adults. The manager of the group, Richard Lindeborg, accepted an invitation to perform from the Northern New Mexico Veterans Organization. The group sang several patriotic songs, such as The Star-Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful, The Armed Forces Salute and O Fair New Mexico.

The chorus made it clear that much musical talent exists in this area. I am sure many people hope the group will return next year, perhaps with even more volunteers.     

Those who performed were Carol Linder, Betty Thompson, Chris Jordan, Vick Evans, Arliss Spinks, Ann Mishler, Mary Petrak de Avila, Mike Hatlee, Chad Boliek, John Liddil and Jim Sampson.

Em Krall is the accompanist, and Daniel Torres the conductor.

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Those who say, “There’s nothing to do in Las Vegas” ought to try out for the Las Vegas Summer Chorus.

Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to art@rezio.net or atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com.