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Noozhawk Talks: Leslie Dinaberg Sits Down with Anthony Borgatello

El Presidente of the 2009 Old Spanish Days Fiesta celebration reflects on the 86-year tradition and all the work behind the scenes

“A Tribute to Tradition” is a fitting theme for this year’s Old Spanish Days Fiesta celebration. El Presidente Anthony Borgatello takes some time out to reflect on his own history with the organization and on growing up in Santa Barbara. He also gives Noozhawk readers a glimpse of the months of planning and work required to produce the 86-year-old Fiesta each August.

Leslie Dinaberg: How did you first become involved with Fiesta?

Anthony Borgatello: I was first recruited as a volunteer in 2001 ... I went to Mercado Del Norte and I just basically helped out and I remained at Del Norte for several years. The following year I co-chaired it and then I ended up as the chair and then I became vice president of marketplaces. ... I’ve worked my way up ... I went on the associate board, and then from associate board I went to the general board. So I was actually the first class of associates that they had, that they started new.

LD: Were they trying to get younger people involved?

AB: Yes. You start out as an associate and you don’t have voting rights but you come to the meetings and so forth. But I spent most of my days at Del Norte and I love it there.

LD: Had you been involved at all before?

AB: It was kind of one of those things where MarBorg realized that we really had to start getting a third generation out there in the public and start volunteering. My cousin did Goleta Rotary and someone else did Downtown Rotary and we all kind of went our separate ways. It was actually Roger Perry that had mentioned it to my uncle, like “Hey, we really should get one of you guys involved in Old Spanish Days,” and that’s when he said, “You know what, Anthony, you would probably be good at that. Go and see what they need.” So that’s what I did. Started at the bottom and worked my way up.

LD: But even those bottom volunteer jobs sound like pretty big jobs.

AB: It’s a huge commitment. That’s one of our first questions when an associate comes in is, ‘Are you willing to take the week off of work? Is your job flexible to let you take off the week?’ Old Spanish Days is a working board and it requires a ton of time. This is my second OSD obligation for the day, and I still have one more. ... It’s a huge commitment.

LD: It’s getting closer to the summer now, but has it been that way all year?

AB: We never stop. The cycle is that we’ll end Fiesta, then right after Fiesta in our September meeting we’ll have a recap, and in October we start our elections. It’s kind of like a slower time, those couple of months, three months there, but it’s a big production that we put on with multiple events and facets to it.

LD: It’s huge.

AB: But it’s a good group of people, and I’ve met some of my best friends on the board and we have a lot of fun together.

LD:: Do you have a favorite event?

AB: As far as just the beauty, it would be Fiesta Pequeña at the Mission. It’s the most magical event. But there’s nothing better than to be at the parade and the mercados; you see all the people who have come together and people are talking and laughing and having a good time and that is a lot of fun to see. You see all this hard work and planning that goes into it and you go, you know what, I think I had a little something to do with all of these people having a good time. When you see the streets lined up at the parade and then at Del Norte or De la Guerra or kids coming down the bouncy games, it’s a lot of fun.

The mercados also offer a place for a lot of other nonprofits; we give the platform for a lot of other nonprofits to potentially have their biggest fundraiser of the year. That’s really rewarding to have other nonprofits have an opportunity to raise money for their cause.

LD: I’m assuming growing up in Santa Barbara that you didn’t just walk into Fiesta for the first time to volunteer for a mercado. What’s your earliest Fiesta memory?

AB: It’s kind of ironic because I definitely remember the parade as a kid and I remember Del Norte. I can remember going there and my mom used to volunteer for the Bishop High School booth and she worked that with her friends for years and years, so we would always go down there and hang out — it’s kind of ironic that was one of my favorite places as a kid. That was a treat to go down and eat dinner down there ...

LD:: When you’re done being El Presidente, is there still a lot of work to do or will you have done your time?

AB: My position next year will be to sit on the executive committee and just be there to mentor the president and the first vice president, but other than that, it’s kind of a running joke how you drift off into the sunset.

That will be fine. But I still think Fiesta runs through my blood and I will always be one of those who will stick around and be around to help out whenever asked if needed. I love the people, I have a lot of friends who are coming up through the ranks and they have shown so much support to me, and I’m going to return the favor to them. So I’ll be around for a long time.

LD: So I know it probably feels like you’re living and breathing Fiesta right now, but when you’re not involved with Fiesta, what else do you like to do?

AB: I love hanging out with kids and I love to work. I love my job and I love to hang out with my wife, Betty, and I’m definitely the outdoorsman. I love to be out in the outdoors and any chance I get when my life slows down I’ll spend more time on our family fishing boat.

LD: If you could pick three adjectives to describe yourself, what would they be?

AB: Compassionate, hard-working probably, maybe intense. I don’t know, focused. I’m not uptight but when I become dedicated to something, I mean, I am very focused and just when I set a goal there’s nothing stopping me. I’ll work day and night to achieve those goals.

LD: Now are there goals for Fiesta in terms of we think “We’re going to have XX number of people or the mercados are going to take in this much money?”

AB: On of my biggest goals is, in these trying economic times, I would like to turn the reins over to the El Presidente next year in the black, in a profitable state. If that could be achieved in this year I would be more than happy. But more so than that, safety — the safety of our participants and people that come to Santa Barbara and so on and so forth. So I would probably put safety number one and profitability number two.

LD: It’s tricky in terms of profitability because you have that fine line between wanting to attract tourists and bring in more money but at the same time keep it affordable enough to attract locals.

AB: In my opinion the safety is probably trickier, because there are a lot of events that go on in this community that Old Spanish Days does not have anything to do with. ... The downtown bar scene and so forth. Now, granted, because of our festival that we put on, it attracts people into town and it definitely gets people more in a festive mood ... so it is busier. But what happens downtown and on Lower State Street — we don’t have anything to do with that. So we’re constantly working with the police department to try to make Fiesta week as safe as possible for all participants, whether they are directly associated with one of our events or not. We sit on pins and needles all week. It’s just one of those fine lines because let’s face it: if something terrible were to happen, it could have a negative effect on Fiesta for years to come.

LD: It’s tricky and it’s changed a lot. Remember the street dances they used to have when we were kids?

AB: Sure. I remember Del Norte when you could walk around with a can of beer. Times have changed. You know what they say, ‘People don’t fight with their fists anymore, they pull out knives and guns,’ and it’s just the way that it is and the organization needs to adapt and change to the changing times.

LD: I would imagine that Fiesta is also a busy time for MarBorg Industries Inc. in addition to your involvement.

AB: Thank God, I’ve got an excellent team to support me both at the office and at home. If I did not have my family supporting me and did not have the employees who allow me to do what I do, I would not be able to give to this community through Fiesta. I have got a very loving, supportive wife.

It takes a tremendous amount of time and a tremendous amount of patience so if you don’t have that, doing this work it would be nearly impossible. And I am very fortunate that I have a great group of people behind me.

Vital Stats: Anthony Borgatello

Born: June 20, 1968; Santa Barbara

Family: Wife Betty, son Anthony, 9, daughter Adrianna, 11, stepdaughters Briana, 19, and Alix, 21

Civic Involvement: “Fiesta takes 90 percent of my time.”

Professional Accomplishments: Founder and general manager of the Liquid Waste Division of MarBorg Industries Inc.; since 1994, has completed a handful of acquisitions for MarBorg; in 2004 started an emergency service company, which provides support services to the military and emergency responders.

Noozhawk contributor Leslie Dinaberg can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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