Become Acquainted with the Powerful Luminaries of This Year’s Fiesta
Get to Know 2021’s La Presidenta, Spirits of Fiesta, and Saint Barbara
By Terry Ortega
Women and girls are a driving force behind this year’s Old Spanish Days Fiesta celebration, as it emerges this year, a little different because of the pandemic and changing safety guidelines.
La Presidenta Stephanie Petlow has served Old Spanish Days in a host of capacities for 20 years. Petlow’s daughter Michelle began her Fiesta dancing career in 1990. The pandemic has challenged Petlow and the Old Spanish Days board of directors to react quickly and nimbly to ever-evolving conditions. Concerning this year’s special approach to Fiesta, Petlow says that producing a safe event containing the much-loved traditions was the challenge. “We went from planning a COVID Fiesta to a hybrid Fiesta once the restrictions were lifted.” The board of directors will continue to pivot in order “to put on the best celebration for our community and visitors.” Petlow also wants to bring reverence and history to her work as La Presidenta as this year’s theme — “Honoring Our Generations’’ — reflects this sensibility. “We are all where we are because of those who came before,” Petlow said.
La Presidenta Stephanie Petlow (left) and Patricia Oreña as Saint Barbara (right). | Credit: Fritz Olenberger
This year’s Spirit of Fiesta, 16-year-old Ysabella Yturralde, a junior at San Marcos High School, began dancing with the Linda Vega studio when she was 5 and knows that she will be a role model for young dancers who aspire to one day dance on the Mission steps. An exuberant flamenca spirit moves Yturralde as nothing else can. She loves designing her own elaborate costumes. An added bonus for Yturralde is how she and this year’s Junior Spirit, 9-year-old Savannah Hoover, have bonded. Both girls only have brothers and were eager to cultivate a sweet sisterhood.
Like Yturralde, Hoover —a 3rd grader at Hollister School and student of Zermeño Dance Academy — began dancing at a young age. Hoover says that having an opportunity to bring joy to the audience is what most excites her about her role as Junior Spirit. She’s looking forward to fulfilling one of her dreams, which is to dance flamenco on the stone steps of the Old Mission. “I love flamenco,” Hoover says, “because it’s dramatic and allows me to express myself.”
This year’s Saint Barbara has deep ties to Santa Barbara and Fiesta. Patricia Oreña traces her lineage to several of Santa Barbara’s founding families, names that include Pena, Calderon, Lugo, and De la Guerra. Oreña attended Wilson Elementary School and La Cumbre Junior High, graduated from Santa Barbara High, and then earned a degree at UCSB. She has many fond memories of Fiesta’s past, gathering with family to celebrate the highlight of every Santa Barbara summer. Representing Saint Barbara on behalf of the Native Daughters of the Golden West is a high honor for Oreña, and she plans to be very active this year, attending as many events as she can. Seeing young people carry on the Fiesta tradition is one thing she’s looking forward to and believes in, as does Petlow, honoring the generations who came before.
La Presidenta Petlow sums it up beautifully by saying, “The spirit of Fiesta is all about coming together as a community… something we have all looked forward to for many months now.” Tradition and community. Past and present. For Petlow, Yturralde, Hoover, and Oreña, there is a recognition of being part of a lineage and a long line of women — mature and youthful — who have carried on, and will continue to carry on, the Fiesta spirit.