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Success story: Questa Fiestas return

June 17

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Ever since the Chevron molybdenum mine permanently closed in 2014, the community of Questa has turned its attention to developing a post-mining economy.

One such effort is the revitalization of the annual Questa Fiesta, which was for many many years a central celebration for the community, culture and faith of Northern New Mexico. After nearly 20 years in dormancy, the festival returns to Questa on June 17.

“It was always a time to visit with old friends, meet new people,” said former mayor Malaquais Rael, who is helping organize the event. “But most of all, it was a time to relax, because all we do around here is work. The Fiesta was the one time you could stop working and just enjoy being with other people.”

Tradition will be honored at this year’s Fiesta with a Mass to be celebrated at San Antonio del Río Colorado Church at 10 a.m. Following the Mass, a procession of parishioners will walk the short distance to downtown, where a stage, booths and vendors will be set up.

Following tradition, the new mayordomos for the acequias will be introduced. Then the

festival begins.

“I remember when I was young, they’d roast a couple of steers, kids would play all around, adults would relax, and a few people would make some money selling food and other items,” said Rael, who recalls that the Fiesta was held at different times in Bosque Park and up in Cabresto Canyon. “It was a true church-town function, like a ‘founders day’ in

other towns.”

This year’s Questa Fiesta will last one day, but village leaders hope to expand it to the traditional two-day event that began in the 1800s when the village was formally established. They also plan to expand Fiesta activities to include tours of the restored San Antonio del Río Colorado Catholic Church and the historic downtown, trout fishing at the newly restored Eagle Rock Lake, and hiking in and around the Wild Rivers

Recreation Area.

Ironically, it was a celebration at Wild Rivers in the mid-1980s that reinvigorated the Fiesta, which had lost steam in the

mid-20th century. 

In 1986, the Bureau of Land Management had a 25th anniversary party planned at Wild Rivers, but most of the vendors were from out of town. Questaños responded with plans for their own party.

“That Sunday, after just 2-3 weeks of planning, Questa held a Fiesta de San Antonio del Rio Colorado,” said Bobby Ortega, who was on the Village Council at that time. “The mine was closed at that time and things were pretty dead around Questa. The Fiesta got the local people going again.”

The Fiesta gathered momentum in the following years. A gazebo went up, the procession got longer, a queen was crowned, and live music and a carnival kept everyone in the party mood. Many family members who had moved out of Questa for work used the Fiesta as an excuse to drive back to reconnect with relatives, friends and their hometown.

“People really took to it,” said Ortega. “They got to see people they hadn’t seen in awhile and meet others.”

The church and the downtown plaza became centers of activity because of the Fiesta and, despite ups and downs with mine employment, the village had regained

its spirit.

But, as often happens, the number of volunteers who made the Fiesta what it was dwindled over time and, as Rael puts it, the “Fiesta turned into more of a barbecue” sometime around the turn of this latest century.

But, thanks to grants from the Northern Río Grande Heritage Area and Chevron, and the efforts of the Questa Economic Development Fund, the Questa Fiesta is back. And the town views its resurrection as more proof that Questa has turned the economic corner and is heading toward a strong future.

“We’ve had to work hard to move to a post-Chevron economy to reinvigorate the community,” said Ortega. “Bringing back the Fiesta is a perfect example of that.”

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Come join Questa in celebrating its Fiesta again. Sign up to be a vendor. Bring family and friends for a relaxing day in Northern New Mexico

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