Fiesta marks 100th year

Jamie Mesecher, a descendant of the storied Prado family, wants a red, white, and green tin roof on top of the pavilion at 34th and Avenue Q.

It’s part of a greater vision for Fort Madison’s Mexican Fiesta as it rolls over the century mark in 2021.

I sat down Thursday evening and spoke with Jamie, Dawn Eid, and Stacy Taylor, all deeply entrenched in the history and tradition of the Fiesta.

This festival probably started as a party between a couple families as a vision of hope for Independence from Spain. What that initial “block party” looked like is still anybody’s guess.

But the first thing Jamie wants everyone to know for sure is that the Fiesta will go on this year and everyone is welcome.

“This isn’t just a festival for latinos. It’s the Fort Madison Mexican Fiesta,” James said. ‘And I think it’s the oldest fiesta in Iowa.”

Mesecher is a descendant of the Prado family. The Prados have owned the property where the beer garden pavilion now sits. 50 years ago it used to be a bar owned by Mesecher’s grandfather. The stories of girls competing to be princesses and queens permeate memories of fiestas gone by.

The group said they are currently looking for candidates for the queen and princesses.

Last year the event was sidelined by the pandemic and the year before it almost didn’t get held because of financial constraints. Mesecher said some information got out about the festival possibly not being held in 2019, but he said that information wasn’t correct. But an infusion of cash after word got out that the event could end without support, did give the fiesta committee breathing room.

But 2020 hit the fiesta committee’s budget again, after the event was canceled due to the pandemic, despite some bills still needing to be paid.

The Tri-State Rodeo encountered the exact same problem but on a larger scale.

Mesecher said the committee is looking for a more productive relationship with the city and the rodeo. He said the stockyards south of the railroad tracks near the fiesta brought Mexican cowboys to the area more than 100 years ago.

“Mexicans were the first cowboys,” he said. “It would be good to get that story told at the rodeo. We could then help them out by volunteering to help at the rodeo.”

He’s also looking for a stronger relationship with the city. Previously, the city had donated $1,000 annually to the event, but this year Mayor Matt Mohrfeld recommended a $2,500 contribution, which the City Council approved Tuesday.

“We want to thank the City for their contribution. Mayor Mohrfeld said it was the city’s heritage and he’s exactly right.”

But Mesecher, and festival committee chairman Scott Huffman asked the council for some additional future considerations, including possibly putting Avenue Q on the public works department’s radar. Taylor said the road is starting to pitch in the middle and vendors have to sometimes put wheels on the curb to level off the trailers.

They also asked for free police presence at the event. They are currently paying about $700 to the city for police security each year.

The beer garden used to be a carnival tent with wood chips on the ground. James and his friends used to go through the wood chips after events and look for money. Taylor said her daughters were past queens and princesses. Eid said she didn’t participate in the fiesta when she was younger but now it’s part of her tradition and history as well.

The group said fundraising for this year’s event is off to a good start, but are still looking for some donations that usually come in each year, but haven’t come in yet. Mesecher said that’s why he’s getting the word out early that there will be a fiesta again this year in the second week of September. Sept. 16 is recognized as the Mexican Independence Day.

“It’ll be here before you know it and we took a hit last year. We want to get a good start this year,” Mesecher said.

Mesecher said work days have been planned and another will be coming up soon, but he wanted to remind the community that it’s a community fiesta and everyone is welcome to come help get the area ready for the festival.

“We provide beverages and get pizza so we take care of all the volunteers.” He said that work days will be announced at a later date.

I typically get down to the fiesta for the royalty crownings and then there’s almost always a football game right after that. But then I go back down on Saturday to enjoy some of the food, music, and the environment.

The girls that dress up for the traditional dances work hard preparing for the performances. The history is told through the dances and outfits.

You can always plan on running into someone you know and starting a conversation over authentic food and a cold beer. Most of the history is in the photographs that hang in the homes along the block. A lot of the original homes in the neighborhood were old rail cars, Mesecher said. The Mexicans that settled there got the cars from the railroad and then the workers would add on to them.

Some of those pictures still hang on the walls of the homes that now adorn the block. The rich history of the Prados and neighbors in pinstripe suits are in those pictures.

We’re gonna write more on the Fiesta as it gets closer, but we thought it might be a good idea to launch coverage with a Sunday piece, just to remind the readership that it is happening again this year. Committee meetings have started, work has begun, dances are being practiced, and plans are being made.

Make sure you put this year’s 100th event on your calendar and keep the fiesta in mind as the summer wanes. Mohrfeld is right. It is our heritage and a part of the community’s history. It was 100 years ago that a couple families got together and celebrated the hope of independence. We should give them hope of a prosperous fiesta once again.

With COVID numbers on the rise again, we hope that vaccinations and people using what we’ve learned over the past 18 months to help make sure the fiesta goes off without a hitch – But that’s Beside the Point.

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