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Wednesday, December 19 , 2018, 3:07 am | Fair 45º


Noozhawk Talks: Michael Dominguez Revels in ‘Job’ as Fiesta’s El Presidente

Old Spanish Days may be a lot of work — make that nonstop work — but this year's chief is enjoying the time of his life

“A Gathering of Friends” is the motto chosen for this year’s Fiesta celebration by El Presidente Michael Dominguez, who took some time out of his busy preparations to reflect back on his history with the Old Spanish Days organization and his hopes for this year’s events. (Fiesta takes place Aug. 4-8 but the festivities get started in earnest next month. Click here for the official Old Spanish Days schedule.)

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

Michael Dominguez: Bartending at Dignatarios (Celebración de los Dignatarios), the party at the Santa Barbara Zoo. ... I had never been and I went and bartended that night, and it was fun. The next year they asked me again. After that I started learning more about the organization and my good friend, Kelly Magne, was past president so she asked me to come and help with some other things.

You start volunteering and seeing what the organization is like and you realize Fiesta is a lot more than you see downtown. Fiesta really does a lot of good work and they give a lot back to the community. It’s not the party scene that everybody is familiar with.

LD: Has long has it been since you first became involved?

MD: I’ve been on the board 10 years and it was probably 12 years ago that I started volunteering.

LD: I know you grew up here; do you have childhood memories of Fiesta?

MD: I was born and raised in Santa Barbara so I have childhood memories of going to the mercados and the carnival. ... And going to the parade early on. I’m old enough to remember when they used to drive cattle in the parade. We obviously don’t do that anymore. (Laughs) Modern society doesn’t allow that sort of thing.

LD: Can you tell me about this year’s Fiesta? Is anything particularly special to you?

MD: Well, you’ve seen the posters. You know we did two this year.

LD: I didn’t know that. Is that a first?

MD: It is a first, actually. I chose the artwork. One is a painting by Theodore Van Cina that hangs in the courthouse. The use of it was donated to us by the Santa Barbara Courthouse Legacy Foundation. The original painting is nine feet long so we had the artwork taken and then our graphic artist started designing the poster.

Almost as eagerly anticipated as Old Spanish Days itself is the annual Fiesta poster. This year there are two, including a limited edition poster with a blue border.
Almost as eagerly anticipated as Old Spanish Days itself is the annual Fiesta poster. This year there are two, including a limited edition poster with a blue border.

“A Gathering of Friends” is my theme for this year. Before we had spoken, the graphic designer wanted to put a color around the painting so I could see the outline and the layout, and she chose this blue ... and my girlfriend really liked it. The few people who saw it seemed to really like it but I had always envisioned more of a red, a traditional kind of Fiesta and old school-type color. So ... I decided to do a limited edition in the blue. We did 300 in the blue only. If offers a more modern flair to the poster.

LD: It’s interesting how different it looks depending on the matting.

MD: Yeah, and it’s the same exact artwork. ... It’s a beautiful painting and I fell in love with it. And it also fit in when I was trying to come up with my theme; the actual painting is called “A Fiesta Gathering.”

LD: That’s perfect.

MD: Exactly. If you look at the painting there are different styles of clothing and everyone has just kind of come together. In the back there is the library, so it’s painted from inside the Courthouse Sunken Garden, on the steps. I also did my pin with the same archway from a different angle.

As for Fiesta itself, we’re not adding anything this year. Obviously, there are budget concerns. We want to make sure that we stay in budget with everything that’s happening in the world and with the economy.

The official 2010 Old Spanish Days Fiesta poster — in red.
The official 2010 Old Spanish Days Fiesta poster — in red.

LD: It’s a weird time with tourism. I’ve been hearing that Santa Barbara was expecting a really lean summer but the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is apparently a huge boon to California tourism. It’s awful but we can use the income.

MD: Exactly. But we figure if we prepare for lean then when it goes really well it’s going to be good for everybody. We have to make sure we stay viable because other nonprofits do depend on us. Both mercados have booths from other nonprofits and some of them make their biggest income during Fiesta. Hopefully, that will be the case for hotels and merchants downtown as well.

LD: What’s your favorite Fiesta event?

MD: I’m partial to Dignatarios. One of the most spectacular events is the opening ceremonies at the Santa Barbara Mission. It’s hard to beat the history of sitting there at the steps of the Mission and watching the dancers as the sun is setting.

LD: It was funny for me because I grew up going to a lot of the events and then when I became a reporter I got much better seats. (Laughs) You can see a lot more near the stage.

MD: (Laughs) It does help to be close and see the work that goes into it. At the courthouse, as well. The closer you get to the stage and actually see the footwork and the nuances of the dances make it that much more incredible.

LD: I would imagine for you that just seeing it all happen must be wild, too.

MD: It’s always fun seeing both sides of it. To be backstage at the Mission or the courthouse and then be in the audience, it’s a different perspective. It gives me greater appreciation for what the dancers go through to prepare and what they put into it. They just don’t get up and dance casually. For them, this is year-round and a lot of hard work.

LD: How much of your time during the pre-Fiesta days is spent on Fiesta?

MD: The majority of it right now. It’s a big commitment.

I’ve been on the board for 10 years. Most El Presidentes are anywhere from nine to 14 years to become El Presidente. That’s a big chunk of your life.

The majority of our board members take the week of Fiesta off because it’s pretty much all hands on deck. This is a working board and we have one full-time staff person, and we have two seasonal employees right now. But for the most part we do all of our own work and organize everything. We go to all the city meetings with the Police Department and whomever else we need to meet with. The social engagements through the Fiesta season are just mind-boggling. I believe last year El Presidente went to 75 in the last month or something. So not only your work life but also your life is put on hold. I mean there are no vacations planned, no trips during these last couple of months.

LD: Where do you work when you’re not working here?

MD: Do I work? (Laughs) I’m with McAdams Financial Services. I do residential and commercial lending.

LD: I would imagine they have to be pretty on-board with what you’re doing, as well.

MD: The good thing about my job is it’s basically self-employed. Look at the last five El Presidentes; they are pretty much all self-employed or retired. (Laughs). I don’t think you can have an 8-to-5 job and pull this off. You would have to have a real understanding workplace.

It’s a huge commitment but it’s well worth it when you see what we give back to the community and we see everyone having a good time at Fiesta.

The day after Fiesta when you look back at it and it’s gone well, and you know that you helped out the local merchants and other nonprofits and given all the children an opportunity to dance and participate in a nice environment, it’s definitely well worth all of the time and effort.

Then you take a nap.

LD: A long nap, I hope. But when you’re not in the midst of Fiesta, what else do you like to do?

MD: Bike ride. I love to run, I did a half-marathon two years ago. I love outdoor activities. Horseback riding has become a real passion. My girlfriend and I have been putting a lot of the free time that we do have into horseback riding because we love it and we’ll be riding horseback in the parade.

LD: That’s different.

MD: Yeah, we won’t be in a carriage.

LD: As a local, when you experience Fiesta you’re sort of experiencing the nostalgia for everything that you’ve enjoyed up to that point, but it’s also that people come out of the woodwork whom you just haven’t seen or heard from or thought about for years.

MD: Exactly. If you’re down at a mercado you may see a friend there every year who you may not see anywhere else but you know they’re going to be at the mercado, you know they’re going to be at Dignatarios or one of the events, and you have a chance to catch up. That makes it special for me; all the friends. I have a lot of friends who have been showing up at the pre-events for me and some of them I don’t get to see that often anymore.

LD: Fiesta’s also good for people-watching, especially the multiple ages together doing the same things. You don’t have a lot of opportunities like that.

MD: The generations are just a great cross-section of Santa Barbara. You’ll be at a mercado or at Dignatarios and you’ll see people from every walk of life who normally wouldn’t interact with each other. At a lot of these events, they do. It’s nice.

What I think keeps the initial spirit of Fiesta alive is to bring the community together, and the time period we honor was an era when people went from ranch to ranch and everybody got along. That’s what we celebrate and keep alive.

Vital Stats: Michael Dominguez

Born: Santa Barbara

Family: Girlfriend, Sheila Busch, who will serve as the First Lady of Fiesta

Civic Involvement: Old Spanish Days El Presidente, Santa Barbara Courthouse Legacy Foundation

Professional Accomplishments: In finance and banking for the past 19 years and at McAdams Financial Services for 10 years.

Favorite Spot: Santa Barbara County Courthouse, the Santa Barbara Mission, Franceschi Park

Best Book You’ve Read Recently: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown and A Separation of Power by Vince Flynn

Click here for our Noozhawk Talks with 2009 El Presidente Anthony Borgatello.

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

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