Fiesta celebrates Hispanic culture in Billings

Mexican Fiesta and Car Show on July 20 raise funds for Mary Queen of Peace parish

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Tortillas are on the Fiesta menu, providing the foundation for tacos, burritos and enchiladas.

Mexican food, music and culture take center stage July 20 in Billings when Mary Queen of Peace parish sponsors the 66th annual Mexican Fiesta and 23rd annual Fiesta Car Show at South Park (South Broadway and 6th Ave. S).

Admission is free and activities begin at 10 a.m. and continue through 5 p.m.

The Fiesta, a celebration of the Hispanic culture that landed in Billings more than a century ago, offers children’s games, a silent auction, and craft vendors, as well as music, singing and dancing.

Performers include Little Joe y Los Alegras, the dance troupe called Los Guadalupanos, Whitewater Express, and vocalist Isabel Aguirre with Mateo and Antonio (members of Los Guadalupanos).

An authentic Mexican meal will be served, which includes a taco, chili verde, rice, beans, and a tortilla. Traditional Mexican food is available at the Mary Queen of Peace booth, including a variety of burritos, tamales and baked goods.

The annual Car Show features more than 100 classic, stock and custom cars (call Jay Krug at 406-348-4033).

The Tejano Outlaws perform for the Fiesta Dance, 8 p.m. at the Billings Hotel Ballroom.

The celebration continues from 8 p.m.-1 a.m. with a dance at the Billings Hotel Ballroom at 1223 Mullowney Lane, featuring music by Tejano Outlaws. Tickets are $15 each or $150 for a table of 10; admission is free for children under 12. For table reservations call Jessica Contreraz at 406-670-7667.

La Fiesta: A history lesson

In 1953, Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church was forged from the husk of a burned-out roller-skating rink, and built by the Hispanic community with the approval of the Catholic Diocese.

Almost immediately, the community decided to hold a Fiesta to raise funds for their new church. “From that time to today, after several leadership changes, we still have our Fiesta,” says Bill Contreraz, whose family was among the event’s first organizers and has been engaged ever since.

“Of course, there have been many changes and directions since then, but the original purpose of the Fiesta is still intact,” he adds. Since its inception, 100 percent of the funds raised from the celebration go to the church, now called Mary Queen of Peace. “Personally, I think that the Fiesta has survived over the years because of the dedication of the church parishioners who stay involved.”

Organizers are proud of their culture, and look forward to sharing Mexican dance, music and food with locals every year. “We feel it is important to share with the community,” says Contreraz. “It’s also a time for people to catch up with old friends and family.”

Billings and the surrounding area are home to approximately 10,000 people of Hispanic descent. The majority of the early Hispanics arrived more than a century ago as betabeleros — those who cultivate and harvest sugar beets. They settled in a small community next to the factory known as “La Colonia.” From those beginnings, the population has expanded to what it is today.

“I and my siblings, born and raised here, are descendants of those migrants. We were involved in the Fiesta starting at an early age,” says Contreraz. “One of my first memories of the Fiesta is of kids in my age group being tasked with straightening nails so that the older folks could nail boards together to form booths.”

He’s been involved in many aspects of organizing the Fiesta, eventually serving as the event chairman for many years. Although leadership has changed, Contreraz continues to contribute as an advisor and fills in as needed, helping to ensure that the celebration keeps going for future generations. “I hope and pray for continued success for the Fiesta,” he says.