Three years ago, Rosa Marie Olson, then 14, came from Bakersfield to spend July with her mother's cousins in Sun Valley. She fondly remembers the malls, the movies, the crowded Santa Monica boardwalk and the rides at Magic Mountain.
What left the greatest impression, however, was the San Fernando Fiesta.
"I'm a bit stuck in the middle, you know. My mother is Mexican-American, but I actually favor my father's looks. He's Swedish, accent and all," Olson said. "The fiesta gave me such a warm feeling. There was a great community spirit that touched something deep inside me. And it was a blast ."
Olson is not alone. About 30,000 people will attend the two-day 66th annual San Fernando Fiesta, which begins at noon Saturday.
"What started as a relatively small event has blossomed into a civic extravaganza," said Joe Sandoval, the fiesta's director for the past three years. "I'm not exactly sure how it happened, but now it's the event for San Fernando and surrounding communities."
Originally, a banquet during the fiesta honored the women of San Fernando in traditional Hispanic costumes. It followed the Blessing of the Fruits and Flowers Festival, a local ceremony that incorporated indigenous American Indian beliefs with Catholic blessings to ensure a bountiful harvest.
"There is something special about San Fernando," said Sandoval, 30, who moved here from New Mexico five years ago. "It's really a small town, a close-knit community.
"The fiesta is one way the local business community shows its respect to its people," said Sandoval.
San Fernando, one of the oldest incorporated cities (1911) in Southern California, is 2 1/2 miles square, with about 25,000 residents.
Twenty-five civic groups are providing more than 45 booths at the fiesta, to be held at San Fernando Recreation Park. There are information and referral services for counseling, youth athletics, education resources and health- and blood-pressure checks. Carnival rides for children and adults will be offered, as well as food prepared by residents and local restaurateurs.
Over the two days, more than 15 bands and entertainers will play.
It is a big break for some musicians. "We are really honored. It is great exposure. We have played so many local clubs, but this is our first time at the San Fernando Fiesta," said guitarist Jorge Castro of Zarkos, an Inglewood-based group that performs original Spanish music.
Other bands include Tijuana, Los Camaros, Agua Azul, Los Aldama, Galazia Tropical, Japapeno Chillin, Estampas de Mexico and the folk group Wade School Folclorico. Performers scheduled are Sylvia Tome, Jonathan, Arleen Leiva, Adriana Del Carmen, Francisco Pelayo, Luis Mario el de Colima, Sandy and Renan.
The headliners are Alvaro Torres, the popular Salvadoran star known for his romantic ballads, and Antonio de Jesus.
Where and When
What: 66th annual San Fernando Fiesta.
Location: San Fernando Recreation Park, 208 Park Ave.
Hours: Noon to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Price: Free admission.