Focus on Fiesta
Despite its official title, Old Spanish Days is making it abundantly clear this year that it’s not an organization firmly attached to being stuck in its old ways. Not only did Fiesta, one of the area’s most popular and long-standing cultural festivals, earlier announce that it had chosen a male as Spirit of Fiesta for the first time in history (Jack Harwood, who we profiled last week in this space), but has also selected an elder of the local Chumash community as the Fiesta Parade grand marshal.
Ernestine Ygnacio-De Soto, whose ancestors have been a part of the Santa Barbara community for generations, was named to occupy the prominent position in this year’s El Desfile Histórico (Historical Parade) as it travels along Cabrillo Boulevard (a new route necessitated by the proscenium dining spaces on State Street), where it will pass her ancestral village, Syuxtun (also known as Ambassador Park), once one of the largest Chumash villages on the South Coast.
The selection honors local history, culture, and traditions beyond the Spanish/Mexican heritage that traditionally forms the focus of Fiesta, and honors the Chumash for their multi-generational contributions toward building the Santa Barbara community. Ygnacio-De Soto’s great, great grandmother, Maria Ygnacia, was the last survivor of those born at Syuxtun, while her mother Mary Yee is regarded as the last native speaker of the Chumash language.
Serving as the Fiesta Parade grand marshal – where she will ride in a historic horse and carriage with other family members on Friday, Aug. 4 – won’t be Ernestine Ygnacio-De Soto’s first foray into the “entertainment” world in front of a large local audience, as the Chumash elder appeared onstage at the Granada last fall as part of the multimedia premiere of Santa Barbara composer Cody Westheimer’s Wisdom of the Water, Earth, Sky with the Santa Barbara Symphony.