Mexican fiesta kicks off annual tradition

Xavier Lemus-Kenney, 11, right, adjusts his sombrero as his cousin, Jessica Lemus, center, 11, and Ashley Anguiano, left, wait for the call for dancers to take the stage for a Jalisco dance Friday during the first night of St. John's Mexican Fiesta. Festival attendees enjoyed an evening of dancing and food.

St. John’s Mexican Fiesta was all about family Friday night.

Luz Ibarra, who helped cook for the church’s first fiesta in 1981, helped her niece, Alicia Hannah, and Hannah’s husband, Lew, skip the long food line Friday night.

Alicia grew up going to St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, 1234 Ky., and she used to be one of the dancers who perform at the fiesta.

“We love the food and the music’s always great,” Lew said. “We feel like we’re passing on the tradition to our kids now.”

The fiesta started as a modest fundraiser more than two decades ago and has turned into a large community celebration. The benefit raises money for local Catholic charities, drawing on the support of 300 volunteers and a projected 5,000 attendees. In recent years the event has raised as much as $40,000.

Fiesta Chairman Frank Lemas said he expected 12,000 to 15,000 people to attend this weekend. Saturday night usually draws a larger crowd, but he said the numbers have started to even out in recent years.

He said money raised this year will help with capital improvements at St. John’s School. It will also help start a new Spanish program for prekindergarten through sixth-grade students and a scholarship fund for local children, he said.

St. John’s Fiesta Dancers DJ Ritmo, Tomas and Dan the Man took the stage Friday night, followed by Son Venezuela with DJ Jalapeno.

Lemas said he tried booking Son Venezuela for the past three years, but the band was unavailable. He said the band has a different sound than the fiesta is accustomed to, but he’s excited for the new Latin Caribbean flavor and the large crowd the band often draws.

Grupo Picante will play today beginning at 7 p.m. Mexican food will be served starting at 6 p.m.