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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Fiesta looks to bless the rains down in Tucson

    Rebecca Marie Sasnett

    From left to right and top to bottom, Sally Polanco, special events coordinator for Celebratión de día San Juan, Lizette Matus, vice president, José Carbajal, treasurer, and Lillian Lopez-Grant, president, pose with a statue of St. John the Baptist. They are putting on El Día de San Juan Fiesta at the Mercado San Agustin on Tuesday from 5-10 p.m. The Fiesta is a Tucson tradition dating back to the 1500s.

    With the help of the Tucson community, the monsoons may be coming Tuesday for the 17th annual El Dia de San Juan Fiesta.

    Each year on June 24, the fiesta attendees pray for the beginning of the monsoon season to bring new life to the desert. The festival is celebrated every year on the Catholic feast day celebrating St. John the Baptist. The ceremony begins with a procession along the dried Santa Cruz River. A statue of St. John the Baptist leads the procession, which ends in a fiesta at Mercado San Agustin. At the Mercado, a Catholic priest will lead a prayer for rain and the priest will bless holy water for attendees.

    One may think that this is primarily a religious festival but El Dia de San Juan Fiesta is a historic and cultural cornerstone of the Tucson community.

    “In the old days when the river was still running people would gather and have a picnic,” said Lillian Lopez-Grant, president of El Dia de San Juan Fiesta committee. “They would say prayers to St. John the Baptist to intercede for rain. The weather wasn’t much better in those days, and the plants, animals and livestock were dying. [The old fiestas] were always a party. People would bring their guitars to the river and they would sing and pray.”

    The Fiesta has its origins in the exploration of the Tucson area by Spanish conquistador Francisco Vásquez de Coronado. Local folklore states that Coronado was exploring the Tucson area on June 24, 1540, when he came upon the dried Santa Cruz River. He prayed to St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of water, and suddenly the summer monsoons began. Since then, June 24 has had special significance to the Mexican-American community.

    “Years ago we tried to just make it [the Fiesta] on a Friday night but people got really upset because it wasn’t that actual 24th of June,” said Lizette Matus, vice president of El Dia de San Juan Fiesta committee.

    During the 1930s and 1940s, the people of Tucson stopped celebrating this unique piece of southern Arizona history. In 1997, the El Dia de San Juan Fiesta committee was formed with the help of the American Historical Society to preserve the Hispanic heritage of the Tucson community. Last year, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild declared by official proclamation that June 24 was El Dia de San Juan Fiesta day.

    “It was something the community really needed to pull together,” Lopez said. “We began the tradition 17 years ago and it took off from there.”

    The committee has been a smashing success. Matus described the early festivals in the 1990s as small block parties, but last year over 4,000 people attended the family-friendly fiesta and this year looks to be even more successful.

    The event is widely known for its fantastic food and entertainers. Tucson’s all-female mariachi group Mariachi Viva Mujer will be serenading attendees with their original music. The closing act will be the country-folk group from the Tohono O’odham Nation Gertie and the T.O. Boyz.

    The event is family friendly, so no alcohol will be sold. Carne asada burritos, carne asada tacos, hamburgers, hot dogs and more will be for sale, Matus said. There will be an area for kids with piñatas and games.

    Keeping with the spirit of generosity and the reason for the event, water is not allowed to be sold. It is given out free by the committee.

    El Dia de San Juan Fiesta begins at 5 p.m. on Tuesday. The procession will begin at the Mission Gardens at 927 West Mission Lane and proceed to the Fiesta at the Mercado San Agustin at 100 South Avenida del Convento. The fiesta will last until 10 p.m.

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