Fiesta Mexicana roots go deep
In the 56 years since the inaugural celebration of the Woodburn Fiesta Mexicana, much about the annual gala honoring the region's Mexican-American roots has changed. Once held at Woodburn's Settlemier and Library parks, the event has since migrated to the shaded evergreen groves at Legion Park east of downtown.
The first parade — a five-block collection of floats, dancers and dignitaries walking through downtown Woodburn in 1964 — has evolved into an hour-long spectacle of the senses, stretching from Legion Park to the Woodburn Aquatic Center.
Big brass horns blared music through downtown; classic cars and sleek low-riders bouncing up and down the street; Fiesta royalty, horseback riders, farmers, sponsors, costumed performers and more all handing out treats to thousands of community members lining the streets Saturday morning.
Even the name has been altered over the years. Initially dubbed Woodburn's 'Fiesta Time', the event was later known as 'Woodburn Fiesta' in the '70s and eventually became Fiesta Mexicana as it has been known for more than 30 years now.
However, the spirit of the festival has remained consistent throughout the 20th and 21st centuries and many of the traditions from the first 'Fiesta Time' are alive and well in 2019.
Beginning with the first "Little Miss Mexico" — Frances Gonzales, along with princesses Connie and Mary Ellen Garcia — the royal Fiesta court has been synonymous with the festival since its inception, continuing that tradition Friday evening in front of hundreds of spectators with the coronation of 2019 Fiesta Queen Jessenia Villanueva.
A senior at Woodburn High School's Wellness, Business and Sports School, Villanueva was selected from this year's court that included Cynthia Nayeli Cardenas, Adriana Cortes Cortes, Priscila Arechiga Molinar, Miriam Barbosa Herrera and Diana Bravo Rodriguez.
"It's an amazing experience," Villanueva said after winning the pageant. "I'm speechless. All of us have put in our own work, and we're all winners in reality."
Much like the Fiesta has changed over time, so too has the Fiesta Court.
From "Little Miss Mexico" to "Mexican Beauty Queen," the Fiesta Pageant has become a way in which participating high school girls, or those who have just graduated, can learn leadership skills, practice public speaking, volunteer with community service organizations and represent the event across the region in the months leading up to the Fiesta.
It was that community service that had the biggest impact on Villanueva as she helped Love INC of North Marion County sort and pack materials for community members in need as part of her service with the pageant.
"Every community service opportunity we had — especially the one at Love INC made me realize a lot of people aren't fortunate, and that organization helps a lot of people who need shelter and food," she said. "Just volunteering there, packing the materials up, was an incredible experience."
While many of the participants knew each other through school — four were classmates at Woodburn High School and two others attend John F. Kennedy High School in Mount Angel — the experience of the pageant helped create a familial bond that will not be forgotten.
"Throughout this journey, we all bonded together and became a family," Villanueva said. "We're all the queens here. No one is better than the other. We're all family."
Villanueva was the first of her family to participate in the pageant. Throughout the decades of the event, countless community members have been involved, inspiring future generations of girls to take part.
"It's just something I've always wanted to do," Villanueva said. "I saw older girls and I just got inspired by them."
By being selected as Fiesta Queen, Villanueva was awarded a full year scholarship to Chemeketa Community College, which sponsors the court, valued at more than $3,000. Her long-term goals are to pursue a career in the medical field or study for a degree in business.
In addition to her coronation, Cardenas was selected as the event's First Princess, receiving a one-term scholarship at Chemeketa worth $1,000.
Cardenas graduated from JFK in June and has been active in the Mount Angel community in her high school career. In addition to tutoring at schools and volunteering at the public library and Providence Benedictine Center, Cardenas was a member of the National Honor Society and Health Occupations Students of America.
She will study at Western Oregon University in the fall to pursue a degree in education where she intends to become a Kindergarten teacher.
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