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Mexican Fiesta Traditions

Fiesta dancers in Kansas MemoryBehind the bright carnival lights, the sounds of the mariachi band, and the aroma of cumin and chili powder wafting through the air,  lies a story of a culture passing on its traditions from one generation to the next.

The word “fiesta” means a happy, joyful celebration.  In many Kansas communities it means one or several days of music, dancing, parades, food, games, races, and crafts.  While they are fundraising events for churches and schools, they are also an opportunity for the Hispanic community to celebrate its rich traditions and share them with others.

One of the state’s first fiestas originated in Garden City in 1926, where a large population of Hispanic farm laborers had settled.  The fiesta was a celebration of Mexico’s independence and marked the winding down of harvest.  There were actually two fiestas at first, each taking place in different back yards. Over the years, the celebrations merged and included baseball games, coronation of the fiesta queen, parades, folkloric dancing, Catholic Mass, and patriotic speeches.

Other communities across the state developed their own fiestas.  The organizers of Fiesta Mexicana in Topeka believe that their event is the largest in the Midwest, celebrating its 75th anniversary in July 2008. The Topeka fiesta began much like the one in Garden City, but it was the opportunity to work for the railroad that brought families to Topeka.  Many settled near the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway shops in an area called “Little Mexico.” Our Lady of Guadalupe Church ministers to those living in the area and still relies upon the fiesta for funding.  The first Topeka fiestas were small, attended only by parishioners and extended family.  Food was cooked in homes and sold on the church grounds. Local artists performed music and dances from the Mexican homeland.

Today Fiesta Mexicana spans several blocks.   Visitors come from across the country to see nationally known performers. Volunteers work for months in advance to prepare more than 50,000 food items for sale.  Other highlights include a carnival, golf tournament, parade, jalapeño eating contest, and the coronation ball.  Young men and women from the church community compete by selling Mexican food items and holding other fundraisers prior to the fiesta.  The ones who raise the most money are crowned king and queen of the fiesta ball.

Entry: Mexican Fiesta Traditions

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: January 2010

Date Modified: March 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.