CALEXICO – Tequila, mariachi music, karaoke, dancing, salsa tasting, artesania — you name it, the city of Calexico delivered it– during the 24th Annual Mariachi Festival Sin Fronteras “Viva Calexico.”
Residents enjoyed five full days of traditional Mexican festivities that began May 12 and continued through Saturday, May 16.
For the first evening’s event, the Carmen Durazo Cultural Arts Center echoed with the high pitch notes of Regional Mexican Music as eleven contestants displayed their talent and competed to become the next Mariachi Idol of Calexico.
Contestants showed up wearing traditional Mexican and mariachi outfits which enhanced the traditional and regional songs chosen by each participant. By the end of the evening, six finalists were selected to move on to the next round.
The next night, May 13, beautifully handcrafted artwork was showcased, including beaded jewelry, crocheted clothing, hand painted pictures, wood sculptures and a variety of Mexican artifacts. All pieces displayed were available for purchase while performances by the Ballet Folklorico, Danzon Dance Group, Mariachi Acero Del Valle and the six Mariachi Idol finalists entertained the attendees.
“I love coming to this event every year. It gives us the opportunity to enjoy our Mexican culture. It’s a nice getaway after a long day at work,” said Betty Robledo, Calexico resident.
Hot, spicy, and talented cooks displayed their gifts the evening of May 14 with the traditional Salsa Contest. Each tasty and colorful salsa was displayed in a beautiful and colorful terracotta pottery bowl.
Juanita Esparza won first place with her secret picadillo family recipe which she named “Viva Calexico.” Natalia Solorzano came in second, and in third place, Lorena Barrios.
That evening’s music featured Mariachi Acero Del Valle Imperial, Calexico High School’s Mariachi Centinela, Ballet Folklorico and the Mariachi Idol finalists.
Calexico resident Victor Escutia remarked, “All of the salsas are so good and tasty. I wish I could take a little bit of each home for breakfast. They are all delicious! I’m glad I’m not a judge, I wouldn’t know which one to choose.”
The cold weather front of Friday evening brought cravings for the soothing taste of traditional Mexican tequila. Jose Cuervo, Sauza and Jimador brands all went perfectly with a lick of salt and piece of lemon as guests yelled, “Shots, shots, shots, shots!”
The evening included a special performance by Mariachi Chula Vista, La Voz Mexico’s Season #1 Winner Oscar Cruz and Leslie Lugo. After a few shots, sponsors and guests ended Friday night with traditional Mexican dance moves.
The anticipated ultimate celebration began its course Saturday evening at Crummett Park with over 2,000 spectators from Calexico, El Centro, Imperial, Holtville, Brawley, Yuma and as far as San Diego filling the park for the grand finale of the festival.
“My wife and I came to visit our family and they brought us to this event,” said San Diego resident Mark Ceballos. “It is amazing. We don’t have anything like this in San Diego. It’s so much fun, we are having a really good time.”
Host and emcee for the event was the popular Gerardo Venegas from the television and radio show “V de Venegas.” Venegas said he was honored to have been chosen.
Many spectators arrived early in the day to reserve seating, knowing the event would max out. A wide variety of foods were available such as traditional tacos de carne asada, sopes, churros, funnel cakes, cream puffs, kettle corn popcorn, Hawaiian shaved ice, candies and of course, beer.
Armando Real, a Calexico councilmember, said, “I love coming to this event every year, but from my personal opinion, this is by far the best one so far. I am enjoying myself galore.”
Veronica Lizarraga, accompanied by Juliana and Hannah Hernandez, attended the event to support their cousin and brother, Aaron Hernandez, one of the Mariachi Idol finalists. Dressed in a Mexican mariachi outfit, Hannah Hernandez stated, “I am here supporting my brother Aaron. I wish he would have won, but I am still proud of him.”
Like her brother, Hannah said she also enjoys singing. “I’m not embarrassed. My favorite song that I like to sing is “Se Me Olvido Otra Vez” by Juan Gabriel. I hope that someday soon, I too can participate like my brother Aaron,” she said.
Also in attendance were Paloma and David E. Pearson, Dean of the SDSU Campus in Calexico. “We are here supporting the event and enjoying ourselves,” the couple said.
As the night came to an end, the six Mariachi Idol finalists went on stage to hear the final results — and all hoped the name on that sealed envelope would be theirs.
First place winner was Rosa Zuñiga who won $200 in cash, a certificate, and the opportunity to participate in the 25th Annual Mariachi Festival Sin Fronteras in 2016.
“I’m happy and nervous at the same time,” Zuñiga said. “I want to thank everyone who voted for me. I have been singing since I was six years old and I love it. I currently attend IVC and hope winning this contest will be the beginning of a singing career with mariachi.”
Carla Flores, Calexico resident and aunt to Rosa Zuñiga, said “I was certain she would win. Rosa has been very talented since she was a little girl. I pushed her to come and participate. I knew this was the perfect opportunity to expose her talent, and I am glad she did.”
The final evening was filled with other talented performers which included Mariachi Acero Del Valle, Mariachi Estrella de Chula Vista, Oscar Santos, Leslie Lugo, Mariachi Estrella De Jalisco and Mariachi Divas de Cindy Shea.