Fiesta is celebrating its 90th anniversary, and this year marks the 87th year for La Fiesta Pequeña, which reveled in Santa Barbara’s Spanish roots with a celebration attended by thousands.
This year’s theme was “honor your history” and featured mariachi, horseback riders and dancers of all ages in festive costumes.
The Rev. Larry Gosselin, an associate pastor with the Mission, co-hosted Wednesday's event with KEYT News anchor Paula Lopez.
Gosselin said he hopes visitors carry the spirit of Fiesta with them even after it ends.
“We are one. And if we can be one tonight, we can be one forever,” he told Noozhawk. “I hope everyone takes away a spirit of great joy, unity and peace.”
Vestal, 16, has been a dancer since age 2. Though she said the experience was overwhelming, her confident performance didn’t reveal it.
“I feel so overwhelmed; it was so emotional, it's crazy,” she said through tears. “Between the audience, the lights and looking up at the Mission, it's all so beautiful. I felt like I wanted to cry the whole time. The music just gets to you, and it got to me tonight.”
Elena Alvarez, a friend of Vestal’s and a self-proclaimed “Fiesta freak,” has been attending La Fiesta Pequeña for the last 15 years. She said she was ecstatic to cheer on her friend.
“She’s one of my customers at Judge for Yourself Café, and when I found out she was the one I was so happy for her,” she said. “The vibe you get from the Fiesta is amazing. I love everything about it.”
The event featured horseback riders, one of whom was 18-year-old Allie Hyatt. Though she said she’s ridden for the Old Spanish Days celebration before, this was her first appearance at La Fiesta Pequeña.
“I love watching all the people react to the beauty of the horses,” she said. “And when the children yell, ‘Look at the princess!’ it gets me every time.”
The original La Fiesta Pequeña, or “little Fiesta,” was held in 1927 to celebrate the restoration of the Mission after the damage it received in the earthquake of 1925. It has since become tradition to hold the event Wednesday evening as the opener for the Old Spanish Days celebration.
Launched in 1924, Old Spanish Days was conceived as a way to attract tourists during the summer months and as a way to commemorate the traditions of Santa Barbara’s Spanish and Mexican founders.