City Festivals do more than provide cheap entertainment, fun rides and new customers. They can create a sense of place and the anticipated joy which pulls populations thru difficult times. Even the Romans knew the importance of “Bread & Circuses” to keeping the civic peace!

So why would a group of folks presume, however well-meaning, to eliminate a nearly 20-year tradition? It seems foolhardy, reckless & short-sighted. Not only are festivals of Santa Ana Cinco’s size (over 100,000 attendees each year) huge cultural assets, they hold the potential to build huge revenue.

Street Sweeper: No fiesta for DTI street sweeper cleaning an empty plaza on Cinco de Mayo Credit: Victor Payan

Free public street festivals in adjacent cities and counties earn upwards of $90,000 in profits per event IN ADDITION TO sales revenue from booth vendors and surrounding businesses. If Santa Ana is unable to sustain Cinco & Fiestas, amidst the hottest tourism destinations on Earth AND the largest concentration of Mexicans in the state, then there’s likely systematic & institutional factors at play. Either the RFP/RFQ needs major revising to be competitive in today’s market or the producing entity needs to be changed. Probably both. Remove whatever is strangling these events’ potential and watch them thrive.

Street Sweeper: No fiesta for DTI street sweeper cleaning an empty plaza on Cinco de Mayo Credit: Victor Payan

Parks & Rec is not set up to generate loads of revenue, but the downtown BIDs are. We’ve been sold on their business savvy in boosting sales & vitality on our beloved 4th Street/La Cuatro for over a decade. Unfortunately the result has been disappointing, with shiny new storefronts & hi-tech parking meters sitting empty most of the week. This is the path the East side of our downtown has chosen. It appears they want large scale events to look like Blading Cup & Block Party instead of those which carry decades of local history.

Big Store on Empty Street: Mega Failure at high noon on Cinco de Mayo where the festival main stage stood last year Credit: Victor Payan

Santa Ana has already dismantled its historic Fire Department. In hindsight, we see what a huge travesty that was. We’ve torn down our historic Opera House, Movie Palaces and even the beautiful Old Jail only to regret trashing these unique landmarks decades later.

Let’s not repeat these past mistakes with Cinco & Fiestas.

There are many businesses on the West End who desire & greatly benefit from big festivals. West End is where the hugely successful “Noche de Altares” is held. They would gladly embrace & support our City’s Cinco & Fiestas. Maybe the West side of La Cuatro can form its own business booster district and break away from East side interests?  If done right, a new district (perhaps a MAD instead of a BID) might solve these ongoing cultural & financial conflicts.

Regardless of what’s to come, success lies in Inclusion, Transparency and Best Business Practices. Let the neighborhoods have a voice, be real about hidden agendas at play, and bring the local pros in. A majority of folks from Neighboring Cities & South County should NOT have a stronger voice in shaping Santa Ana’s cultural identity and civic celebrations than Local Residents.

Viva Santa Ana!

Pocha Peña is an award-winning Artist and Arts Advocate. She is a Santa Ana native and co-founded the OC Film Fiesta multicultural film festival, Media Arts Santa Ana & United Artists of Santa Ana. Peña currently serves as Chair of Santa Ana’s Arts & Culture Commission and on the Eastside Neighborhood Association leadership team.

Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC. 

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at

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