Pray for rain: Dia de San Juan Festival June 24
June 19, 2015
By Simon Brimmer
When Coronado arrived in the drought-plagued desert 465 years ago, he had no idea a simple prayer at the riverbanks of the Santa Cruz would have a lasting impact in a future world he couldn’t begin to imagine.
Even in the midst of stark changes, Tucsonans today can appreciate why Coronado bowed to the heavens. This week, with temperatures in the triple digits and no relief in sight, residents of the Old Pueblo can sympathize.
Bring us rain.
As the story goes, Coronado went to the banks of the then-flowing Santa Cruz River, prayed to John the Baptist, the patron saint of water, and asked for rain on his birthday, June 24. If his prayer was answered, Coronado promised a grand fiesta that would resume on the same date every year.
Eventually, as the years passed and Coronado was little more than a distant memory, his prayer and its accompanying annual promise dissipated like droplets in a bone-dry desert. But a century or so ago, Coronado’s gesture was revived, and the so-called Dia de San Juan garnered new life through small celebrations.
Nearly two decades ago, the event got a boost through the support of some neighborhood organizations.
“About 18 years ago—this is our 18th year of having this fiesta—the westside area, Menlo Park and so forth, decided to do it again as a block party,” said Lizette Matus, one of a small group of four women involved in the planning process. “It started off as a little fiesta between friends, and it’s grown to where it is now.”
Where it is now is as an event that routinely draws 3,000 to 4,000 participants. This year’s Dia de San Juan block party takes place in the southeast parking lot of Avenida del Convento and Congress, across from the El Rio Health Clinic. If that sounds somewhat confusing, don’t worry. Just look for the people and listen for the sounds of a true Tucson summer fiesta.
“We have music, mariachis, folklorico dancers, piñatas for the kids, face painting, all kinds of food, from hot dogs to hamburgers to tacos, tons of information booths,” Matus said. “Normally, we’re calling people to ask if they want to participate. This year they came to us.”
Dia de San Juan—it’s always on June 24 (Wednesday this year) regardless of what day on the calendar that is—begins at 5 pm “with a procession that starts it all off, and the procession goes this year from around the Cushing Street Bridge to the west side of the lot near where the streetcar station is,” Matus said. “After the procession, there will be the blessing of the water. We have a bowl of water that will be blessed. People are more than welcome to bring little jars to take the holy water home with them.
And then the festivities commence.
Will the rain be far behind?
Say a prayer. It might just be answered.