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Venerable City Fiesta Serves Up Artworks and Tradition

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Though Cesar Vasquez’s wood-carved prints and lithographs are not for sale at this weekend’s San Fernando Fiesta, he hopes just having his art on display will help give exposure to other Latino artists in the Valley as well as inspire local youth to explore their creative side.

“It’s hard to put a price on something that I created,” said Vasquez, 29, who works part time as an arts and crafts instructor at Canoga Park Elementary School and as a tattoo artist.

But he said he wants to let kids know that they can make a living as an artist.

“When I was a kid there wasn’t anything out here, though I stuck to it,” he said. “It would have helped a lot to have mentors.”

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Under two huge canopies in the center of Recreation Park, 26 painters, cartoonists and photographers are exhibiting their work--the first such display in the 72-year history of the annual fiesta.

The fiesta also features carnival rides, a softball dunking booth, tacos, and performances by several Los Angeles mariachi bands.

Other artists, including Joanne Maldonado, said there are many Latino artists in the Valley but relatively few venues where they can network and share ideas.

“We’d be in a garage painting without events like this,” said Maldonado, whose portraits sell for $400-$1,000.

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The first fiesta, held at San Fernando Elementary School in 1926, was organized by school officials to celebrate Mexican culture and generate funds to help needy children. The fiesta eventually relocated to the park, where families now spend a weekend under the hot Valley sun, examining the works in the new art tents and gathering information from booths set up by local merchants and nonprofit organizations.

Once a weeklong event that included a parade through town, the selection of a Fiesta Queen, a Queen’s Ball and Mantilla Banquet, and the “Whiskerino"--a contest to determine the man with the longest beard--the modern version is a more relaxed, two-day festival. Nonetheless, city organizers expect more than 30,000 people to attend this year.

Adorned with a crown and an elegantly draped white sash, Miss San Fernando 1998, Andrea Chavez, 20, said she is proud to represent San Fernando and be a part of the fiesta.

“I feel at home in this city,” she said. “It’s a real tightknit community.”

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As the buoyant, accordion-accented grooves of a conjunto--or band--filled the air, Rufino Couvertier, of Lawndale said he was attending the fiesta for the first time.

“Though I play Latin jazz,” he said, smiling, “music is music.”

Couvertier, originally from Puerto Rico, said it was good to be among people from a host of Latin cultures in a peaceful and festive atmosphere.


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