St. John’s early festival parade commemorates Latino heritage

The girls along Massachusetts Street waved the skirts of their bright Chiapas wedding dresses in rhythm, dancing in the street for 25 years of Lawrence Latino culture.

The girls Saturday were part of a downtown parade commemorating a quarter-century’s worth of Mexican fiestas at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, 1234 Ky.

“We’ve had to work to make this come together,” said parade committee member Sandy Davalos.

The annual celebration of Lawrence’s Latino community and activity at the church doesn’t officially kick off until next week. But church leaders organized an early parade to help celebrate the event’s silver anniversary.

Earlier this year, church elders began searching for younger church members to help run the parade and next week’s fiesta celebration, Davalos said.

While she was sitting down to dinner one night, her phone rang. Other officials from the church and the parade committee wanted her help.

“They’re trying to get some younger blood in there,” Davalos said. “I think this gets younger people involved.”

So Davalos and the three other members of the parade committee began contacting other parade veterans within the community.

St. Patrick’s Day folks. Christmas folks. Whoever may have a bit of advice or could help with the plan.

“Lawrence is a big parade community,” Davalos said while directing traffic on Massachusetts Street. “We just took advantage of our resources.”

Those resources also included the church’s web of Latino resources in town. Davalos and other church volunteers called as many organizations as they could, she said, looking for interest and entrants for the new parade.

Among those, Davalos contacted Lydia Leon, who works with several community groups, including the Latino Community Coalition.

The coalition, Leon said, helped alert the Latino community about the parade, leading to a larger turnout for a parade’s first year.

“We’ve built up a network of people,” Leon said, “and things that go on in the community with Latinos.”

So as the day unfolded, nervous church organizers transformed into proud parade leaders, directing decorated cars and trucks, dancers and revelers downtown.

Trucks pulled youngsters, all donned in traditional dress, as they tossed candy to roadside onlookers.

Souped-up cars and trucks crawled along the parade route, blasting the music that set the dancers dancing.

“I was really nervous when I came here today,” Davalos said. “But things turned out great. Everybody came together.”