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By The Staff

There’s no bigger event for Las Vegas than its July fiestas. And as far as we know, no public event has lasted quite so long.

Fiestas de Las Vegas, which begins tonight with the reinas pageant, is now 120 years old. Back when it started, in 1888, Las Vegas was a bustling frontier town of sizable proportions, for those days, and New Mexico was still 24 years away from statehood.

Las Vegas was first settled by the Spanish as far back as 1821, though persistent Indians raids prevented Luis Maria Cabeza de Baca and his 17 children from permanently settling the area. In 1835, however, 29 men successfully petitioned the Mexican government for a land grant to settle the area and Las Vegas grew from there. Eleven years later, it would be taken and declared part of the United States.

With such a foundation, it’s easy to see how Las Vegas became so deeply rooted in Hispanic culture — and why the fiestas are such a part of this community’s life. The fiestas keep the community tied to its heritage; they keep us connected, through song and dance. They are more than just an annual celebration, they are what makes us Las Vegas.

In a way, it’s appropriate that the fiestas occur over the Fourth of July holiday. Las Vegas is a city that has produced more than its share of war veterans, from the Rough Riders who rode with Theodore Roosevelt to the native sons stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, all the while clinging to a rich history that goes beyond the Anglicized version of America. Las Vegas is full of American patriots who recognized the power of diversity long ago. And what better way to celebrate our Spanish-American heritage than through las fiestas.

This year for the 120th celebration, the theme is Vida, Musica, Familia y Paz, and really, that sums up the fiestas quite well. It’s all about life, music, family and peace, and it always has been.

And so, to all those will be attending and enjoying Fiestas de Las Vegas — enjoy, and be proud. It’s a great way to celebrate the rich heritage of our region, and the diverse nation we’re a part of.