BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Organizers with Fort Madison’s iconic and cultural celebration of Mexican heritage and history in the city are still saying this year’s festival is cancelled.
The Mexican Fiesta, which typically takes place the weekend after the Tri-States Rodeo which would be Sept. 14 and 15th this year, has fallen on hard times and committee spokesman Aaron Prado said, as of right now, the event is canceled.
“The crowds have been really small the past three years,” Prado said. “They’ve been getting smaller and smaller. When we did our grand entrance and had our dancers perform, it used to be you couldn’t even see in front of you it was so crowded. It was really a big deal.”
Prado said he doesn’t know if it’s the economy or culture or weather that’s resulting in smaller attendance.
“Last year I got up to speak and I looked around and there were gaps in people and not nearly the crowd we used to get. Weather and things effect it, and we did have some rain showers, but not to the point that everything was drenched.”
He said the reduced crowds obviously result in reduced revenues that are used for operating expenses. The 2017 event just barely left any money in the bank and Prado said the festival didn’t break even.
However, as word has gotten out that organizers are considering canceling the festival, Prado said people have been calling to offer assistance.
“If we were able to get some people to offer to serve on the committee, and we could get some needed funding, we could hold a public meeting at a later date and see where we’re at. We could do something a bit more watered down and then regroup and see where we’re at for next year, but as it is right now, it’s still canceled.”
He said over the past week people have offered to step in to help and the group is getting bigger, but for the past three of four years, the committee has just been six people.
“That’s hard on us not having the manpower to pull it off. And when we didn’t get enough money last year, or for this year, it was like well, we’re gonna have to do something,” Prado said.
The festival committee had contracts that needed to be signed with entertainment providers and due to lack of funding couldn’t get those contract signed. So they had to make a decision.
Prado said it’s an emotional issue for his family who has at least three generations involved in putting on the festival. The Festival committee became an official organization with non-profit status in the 1980s.
He said the festival has been held in the same neighborhood, in the area of 34th Street and Avenue Q, since 1922 in celebration of Mexico’s independence. However Mexican immigrants were in Fort Madison before the Mexican Revolution, and as early as the turn of the century. A suggestion was made to move the festival to downtown to have more access to people and business, but Prado said the committee was against taking the festival out of the area.
“It was very strongly agreed that we keep it where it is,” he said. “That’s the main area all the people from Mexico moved to when they came. That area down there is where all the meaning of it is. If we did move it downtown, it would take away the history of it from starting down there. No one really wants to see it moved.”
Prado said with the recent offerings of help to keep the festival going, even in the event this year’s gets cancelled, he wants to try to regroup for next year.
“We’ll end up holding a more public meeting and anyone who is interested in helping we’ll be more than happy to have them down here and assign them some tasks or they can make donations. We’re a non-profit organization so any donations are tax-deductible,” he said. “If we can build the committee back up and get enough money to hold the event, I’m hoping next year we can look at really reorganizing things and make things better. But we’ll have to get some things squared away.”