Archive for Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Construction can’t stop St. John’s Fiesta

June 19, 2013


This year's St. John's Fiesta was never in doubt.

Some people in the community might have wondered after seeing the front of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church being torn to pieces because of remodeling. But organizers say they're not going to let a little construction get in the way of tradition.

Volunteer Bert Bermudez pours a colander of browned rice into a pan for storage during preparations for the St. John’s Fiesta, which opens Friday night at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, 1234 Kentucky St. Bermudez and a volunteer crew spent Tuesday evening browning about 125 pounds of rice for the fiesta.

Volunteer Bert Bermudez pours a colander of browned rice into a pan for storage during preparations for the St. John’s Fiesta, which opens Friday night at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, 1234 Kentucky St. Bermudez and a volunteer crew spent Tuesday evening browning about 125 pounds of rice for the fiesta.

For the past 30-plus years, the Lawrence parish has, on the weekend after Father's Day, played host to a Mexican fiesta, featuring music, dance and, perhaps most important, authentic Mexican food. Upward of 300 volunteers help put on the two-day event, which is attended annually by an estimated 14,000 people.

"It's called St. John's Fiesta, but believe me, it is a community event," said organizer Buddy Langford.

St. John's School has recently been expanding so it can start enrolling junior high students. That meant the garage that housed the fiesta's supplies had to be removed — "It was like taking a family member away," joked organizer Frank Lemus — and the grassy area where fiesta tents usually stood paved over. Construction was supposed to be completed by May, but organizers were still waiting for some of it to be done this week. If it doesn't happen, "I guess we could go to Taco John's and bring bags of tacos over," quipped Langford.

Jokes aside, the fiesta's organizers aren't worried about the construction. They'll work around the inconvenience, as often has to be done to keep an event going for more than three decades.

"I don't think it crossed our mind" to cancel the fiesta, said Lemus, the organizing committee chair. "If you stop something, you run the risk of it not happening again or you lose your crowd."

For the 43-year-old Lemus, like many others, the event is a family affair. His mother was among the founders of the event, he is now its chief organizer and one of his daughters dances in it.

"I used to dance but now I work the last food shifts," said his other daughter, 14-year-old Olivia, adding that her favorite part of the fiesta is "getting to see everybody I don't usually see."

St. John's 32nd Annual Mexican Fiesta

Friday and Saturday from 6-11:30 p.m.

St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, 1234 Kentucky St.

Free admission

Featuring authentic Mexican food, mariachi music, live bands, carnival games (on Saturday) and moonwalk

No outside food or beverages

The fiesta began in the early 1980s as a fundraiser for St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, which had recently split its parish. (This is actually the fiesta's 33rd year but, because of some mathematical confusion along the way, it's being called No. 32; next year, it will be properly referred to as the 34th.) Since then, the event, which started as a one-day "mini-fiesta" in the church basement, has evolved significantly, and now brings in money for the Spanish program at St. John's School, scholarships for local Mexican-American students and other community organizations. The fiesta generally raises more than $25,000 a year.

The food will be there one way or the other. The ladies who cook it start about a week ahead of time. On Tuesday night, they browned 125 pounds of rice.

Outside, though, instead of taking two weeks to set up the event — putting out bleachers, tables, chairs, tents, lights — organizers will now try to do it in a day.

"We want to get the word out there for people who drive by and see the construction that we are having the fiesta," said Lemus, adding that regardless of any complications, "Just know we're going to host it and do the best we can."


Erinn Barroso 4 years ago

The food is ok, but in no way "authentic". I despise the overuse of this word to describe food, as it is almost never the case. Why can't LJ just say Mexican food?

shnops40 4 years ago

Not authentic? The recipes used were passed down from parents and grandparents from Mexico. Even some of the people who cook the food were born in Mexico. Don't worry, it's authentic.

Erinn Barroso 4 years ago

Not if you've ever eaten food in Mexico.

gatekeeper 4 years ago

FYI - the food in Mexico is different depending on what part of Mexico you were in. It's a large country with many different regions. Street food is different from what's cooked at home. Most of what we're used to in the USA, like tacos and quesadillas is just what they consider street food (and isn't really what they serve down there, they use different ingredients). I know, best friend is Mexican and I've been lucky for decades to sample her family's cooking and my husband's from southern California and have eaten a lot of authentic food down near the border, made by true Mexicans (which is almost always the northern MX style food).

I'll be there this weekend to get some grub!

homechanger 4 years ago

I have eaten many meals in Mexico and found food prepared in different regions to be similar but different. Fiesta food is authentic. Quit hating.

stjohnsfiesta 4 years ago

If you don't have anything planned, come on down!

Brock Masters 4 years ago

I was standing in the food line and right there at the entrance was a Latino Vote booth. I was disgusted to see a blatant display of discrimination based on national heritage.

Why not just have a voter registration booth open to everyone in the community?

Think I am wrong then ask yourself if you'd allow a White Registration booth or a food line limited to Latinos.

Why have a booth that excludes at a festival that should be about celebrating the diversity of our community.

And yes, I left without spending a dime.

smileydog 4 years ago

I don't think it's the front of the church being torn down, the last I saw it is the front of the school that's being torn down. The photo caption says front of the church.

jhawk1998 4 years ago

It's a great community event but three days in a row on the paper front page? The Kansas relays don't get that kind of coverage.

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