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Kathy Cota dancers wait to go on stage to perform Mexican folklorico dances, August 1991

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Old Spanish Days in Santa Barbara
A Local Legacy

Have you ever been to a real, authentic fiesta? Every year in August, the city of Santa Barbara celebrates its Mexican roots with the Old Spanish Days Fiesta. This community festival, first held in 1924, celebrates the Rancho Period (1830-1865) of Santa Barbara's history. This period spanned the time when Santa Barbara was under both Mexican (1822-1848) and American rule (1848+). At the time, Santa Barbara was a remote rural area under the influence of Spanish, Mexican, and local Chumash Indian cultures.

The name "rancho" refers to the cattle ranches (ranchos) that were established when the Mexican governor distributed large areas of California land to people of influence. The rancheros (ranch owners) might hire as many as 100 workers to work on the ranchos. Usually the workers were Chumash Indians who had been trained at the Catholic missions. The Indians worked as vaqueros, usually with a foreman called a mayordomo (pronounced my-or-DOE-moe). Others worked as harness makers, tanners and carpenters.

Santa Barbara celebrates the traditions of the California Rancho Period at the Old Spanish Days Fiesta with music and dancing, open-air marketplaces with traditional California-Mexican foods, flower girls who hand out hundreds of flowers, and four days of rodeo events.

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