La Fiesta Bonita - CSPM

La Fiesta Bonita

Victor Ornelas Sr. and his eleven siblings grew up in the Conejos neighborhood. He married Mary Josephine (Josie) Sandoval in 1955 and the couple had four children. In 1976, they opened the Aztlan Restaurant and Lounge. Over the years they generously hosted holiday parties and toy giveaways, sponsored sports teams and offered dance groups rehearsal space at Aztlan. They were also key organizers of La Fiesta Bonita, a renowned cultural festival founded by Jose and Corina Pacomia Alvarado. Their four-year-old son Victor wore this Charro outfit for La Fiesta Bonita.

– From the CSPM Curator of History

For 25 years La Fiesta Bonita, The Beautiful Party, brought together Colorado Springs residents of all backgrounds to celebrate the region’s Mexican heritage. The event was a community celebration of Spanish language, history, art, and music. The driving force behind the event was Jose Alvarado. Alvarado first moved to Colorado Springs with his family in the 1930s. At that time Colorado Springs was a racially segregated city and the Alvarado family settled into a Mexican neighborhood near Shooks Run. Jose’s father, Baltazar, found work in construction and helped construct both NORAD and the Air Force Academy.

Alvarado’s upbringing taught him to appreciate and understand his Mexican heritage. In the 1950s he noticed that many children of Mexican families, such as those living in the Conejos Neighborhood, were getting into trouble. Worse than that even very few seemed to know about, much less appreciate, their cultural heritage. Alvarado worked with other volunteers in the community to organize the first La Fiesta Bonita in 1956. The community held the two-day event over a single weekend. Stalls that sold clothing, pottery, glassware, and food filled Acacia Park. There were performances of traditional dances and music. A Mariachi band sauntered throughout the park, serenading the attendees. The crown of Fiesta Queen was awarded to a young woman based on her knowledge of Mexican history and culture. Our Lady of Guadalupe Church hosted events and the fiesta culminated in a dance held at the City Auditorium. Thousands of people from around the city came to join in the festivities.

The celebration was such a success that it became an annual event. People from all over the state and region would come to Colorado Springs to celebrate, dance, and eat with one another. The event inspired other celebrations of Mexican heritage in the state, with both Denver and Pueblo establishing their own commemorations.

The truly remarkable thing about La Fiesta Bonita, particularly in its’ infant years, was its’ ability to bridge racial divides. In the 1950s it was one of the few events in the city that would bring together citizens of all backgrounds. It taught young people of Mexican descent about their ancestral culture and introduced non-Mexican community members to the culture of their neighbors. Alvarado believed that a shared cultural understanding was imperative because “If you have respect for your own heritage, you’re going to respect someone else’s heritage.”


Generously Submitted by Patrick Lee, CSPM Museum Technician

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