Let It Rain! Celebrate the Día de San Juan Fiesta at Mercado San Agustin
May 24, 2013
By Maria Inés Taracena
Traditions are what keep us close to our roots. Some have been part of our native culture since the beginning of its existence, and others have been influenced by a melting pot of people from different corners of the world. Throughout history, the Southwest has had people come in and out. There are those who have been here for hundreds of years, those who migrated here, and those who were just passing by. And, the diversity of our history reflects in some of the modern festivities we participate in. Our traditions and legends are a refreshing blend of native and foreign. But, as societies transform, it can get harder and harder to keep all traditions alive. Younger generations get caught up on what is new, and oftentimes forget about the roots that shaped them.
The Día de San Juan Fiesta Committee arose about 16 years ago hoping to preserve the Hispanic heritage of their neighborhood in the West Side of Tucson. For quite some time, these long-time residents of the area witnessed the deterioration of some traditions and the lack of interest from younger generations to learn about and celebrate their Latin American roots.
Similarly to other committees, (such as the Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe committee, which concentrates on preserving the Our Lady of Guadalupe fiesta) the San Juan Commitee focused on reestablishing and preserving this ritual and celebration of St. John the Baptist. “There are a lot traditions, legends, and history here in Southern Arizona,” says Lillian Lopez-Grant, Día de San Juan Fiesta Committee Chair. “That same history and culture tend to be forgotten. So, it is very important to us to maintain our Hispanic culture and the traditions that make our neighborhoods and barrios so vibrant and alive.”
El Día de San Juan Fiesta saw its origins in 1540. Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, a Spanish conquistador, traversed through Southern Arizona when he, and his colony, encountered a destructive drought. Their fields dried up and their animals began to die. Legend says that, during this time of desperation, he turned to his Catholic beliefs, and prayed to St. John the Baptist near the Santa Cruz River. Shortly after, it began to rain.
This celebration to St. John became a tradition that gathered an increasing amount of faithful followers praying to St. John for an abundant monsoon season. Families in the Old Pueblo’s West Side celebrated it for a century. However, there were many years when the tradition was locked up in the dark. “There was a period of time when Día de San Juan, Día de los Muertos, and other Hispanic traditions weren’t celebrated anymore, and were dying out,” Lopez-Grant says. “Through the years, we’ve had an extraordinary effort in resurrecting our culture and traditions.” They overcame the dormant period, and since then, Día de San Juan has been celebrated religiously.
On June 24, the committee is hosting the 16th Annual El Día de San Juan Fiesta to kick off this year’s monsoon season. The fiesta will begin with a procession, showcasing an antique statue of St. John the Baptist, which will start out on the west bank of the Santa Cruz River. Then, there will be a huge party at Mercado San Agustin with live music and dance, food and aguas frescas vendors, games for children, among other family activities.
The date is crucial to the tradition. Lopez-Grant says that the celebration has to be done on the day that it was promised to God: June 24. In the past, the committee tried to move the celebration to random weekends in June to assure a big gathering. However, many followers of the saint and tradition were disappointed by the date changes.
June 24 is the official day for St. John the Baptist according to the Catholic Church, and the day when many Latin countries and Spain honor the saint. Because it falls on a weekday this year, Lopez-Grant knows there is the possibility that many regulars will be unable to come. However, she knows that they will all be there in spirit. “We’ve had years when up to 5,000 people have shown up,” Lopez-Grant says. “But it doesn’t matter if there are times when not many are able to come. What’s important is the faith, whether it is religious or not, and to keep this tradition, and others, alive.”
El Día de San Juan Fiesta will take place on Monday, June 24 at Mercado San Agustin on 100 S. Avenida del Convento from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Admission is free. For more information call 665-8618 or visit the committee’s Facebook page.