Fiesta 2023 Luminaries

Get to Know This Year’s Fiesta Luminaries El Presidente, the Spirits, Saint Barbara, and El Desfile Histórico Grand Marshal

Fiesta 2023 Luminaries

Get to Know This Year’s Fiesta Luminaries
El Presidente, the Spirits, Saint Barbara,
and El Desfile Histórico Grand Marshal

By Terry Ortega, Leslie Dinaberg and Ryan P. Cruz |
Photos by Fritz Olenberger & Ken Pfeiffer
August 3, 2023

See more of our complete guide to Fiesta 2023.

David Bolton: El Presidente

David Bolton, El Presidente | Credit: Fritz Olenberger

This year’s El Presidente, David Bolton, has lived in Santa Barbara for 55 years, having attended Montecito Union, S.B. Junior High, and S.B. High School, then San Diego State University to earn his BA in Journalism and History of Latin America. Bolton lives in S.B. with his husband and this year’s Primer Caballero (“first gentleman”), Gonzalo Sarmiento, and also serves on the board and as official Fiesta historian for Old Spanish Days. “Since its first year in 1924, it continues to bring this community together and helps support local business and nonprofits while recognizing our varied histories, cultures, and traditions,” he said.

When asked how this year’s theme of “Let’s Fiesta” was created, Bolton recounted, “November 2019, I was at a conference with my husband in San Antonio, Texas, and after breakfast one day, we decided to walk and saw a large mural painted on the entire side of the building that said, ‘Let’s Fiesta!’ I told Gonzalo then, ‘If I ever become Fiesta Presidente, that will be the theme.’ ” Coincidence or manifestation?

I asked Bolton about what the role and responsibility of El Presidente means to him, and he expressed how honored he is to follow in the footsteps of past Presidentes. The job has many elements, such as volunteering, fundraising, and government and business relations, while setting an overall tone each year. Bolton is most looking forward to “families celebrating together, and friends reconnecting,” adding, “Fiesta is not about any one of us individually … it is about the entire community, bringing us together … and helping to make this community we live in special.”

What Bolton wants for the community and tourists to take away from this year’s Fiesta is “history, history, history. Understanding our history will make us better people and a better community in the future. We cannot change history, but we can learn from it, and I have tried to include history in all aspects of this year’s Fiesta.” Bolton knows it takes many pieces and hard work and planning to pull off a successful celebration, and he does not take this responsibility lightly. “I am hopeful that the hard work of everyone involved — the board, the volunteers, city officials, and our sponsors — pays off and everyone in this community truly enjoys Fiesta 2023!” he said.

As well as creating a seamless event this year, El Presidente David Bolton is also aware of the importance of our shared history. He hopes this tradition will continue for years to come. —Terry Ortega 

Olivia Nelson: Junior Spirit of Fiesta 2023

Olivia Nelson, Junior Spirit of Fiesta | Credit: Fritz Olenberger

Olivia Nelson, a 10-year-old 4th-grader at Roosevelt Elementary School and this year’s Junior Spirit of Fiesta, has been “working really hard this past year for the honor of sharing my love of flamenco with the community.” 

Nelson has studied flamenco dance with Zermeño Dance Academy for three years, and before that, she studied ballet for four years. “It wasn’t until my best friend, Savannah Hoover, won Junior Spirit in 2021 that really motivated me to make the change from ballet to flamenco,” she said.

When asked what she’s most excited about, Nelson responds with assurance: “I’m most excited to dance on the Mission steps and wearing my white dress for the first time.” I asked this year’s Junior Spirit if there is something about her that would surprise the community, and she revealed that her great-great-aunt and -uncle are Ozzie and Harriet Nelson from the 1952 sitcom The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet

With Nelson’s debut on the Mission steps being a “dream come true and one of my biggest accomplishments,” say hi to her as she leads the Desfile de los Niños, dances at the Courthouse for Noches de Ronda, and performs for the community throughout the entire 2023 Fiesta celebration. —Terry Ortega

Ernestine Ygnacio-De Soto: Grand Marshal, El Desfile Histórico

Barbareño Chumash elder Ernestine De Soto, Grand Marshal, stands where the Chumash village of Syuxtun meets current-day Cabrillo Boulevard. Images show De Soto’s maternal line — clockwise, from top left: Maria Joachima Ygnacio, aka Mary Yee, mother; Lucretia Garcia, grandmother; Luisa de Jesus Ygnacio, great-grandmother. | Credit: Fritz Olenberger

For the first time ever, an elder of the Chumash community has been selected as the Fiesta Parade Grand Marshal. Ernestine Ygnacio-De Soto, whose ancestors have been a part of the Santa Barbara community for generations, will have a prominent position in this year’s El Desfile Histórico (Historical Parade) as it travels along Cabrillo Boulevard and passes her ancestral village, Syuxtun (also known as Ambassador Park), and known to be one of the largest Chumash villages on the South Coast.

Ygnacio-De Soto’s family has deep connections to Santa Barbara and the Americas. DNA traces her ancestry as far back as 13,000 years ago; her great-great-grandmother Maria Ygnacio was the last known survivor to be born in the village of Syuxtun; and her mother, Mary Yee, is noted to be the last native speaker of the Šmuwič Chumash language.

“Being asked to be the Fiesta Parade Grand Marshal is a wonderful opportunity to show our Santa Barbara community that we Chumash are still here and that we have left our mark on this place,” said Ygnacio-De Soto. “Our presence was the first, and our town of Syuxtun, located at the harbor front, was the first village here. Our younger generation is following us, making their contributions to our community and to keeping our Chumash traditions alive. I am pleased to represent the recognition of the Chumash roots of our Ygnacio family.” —Ryan P. Cruz

Lisa Osborn: Saint Barbara

Lisa Osborn, Saint Barbara | Credit: Ken Pfeiffer

Wearing the traditional white gown, crimson cape, and golden crown for this year’s honor of portraying Saint Barbara in Old Spanish Days Fiesta is Lisa Osborn, community volunteer, radio broadcaster, and the news and public affairs director at UC Santa Barbara’s KCSB-FM 91.9. 

The Saint Barbara tradition — having a member of Reina del Mar Parlor No. 126, Native Daughters of the Golden West portray the city’s namesake — dates back to 1926, two years after the founding of Old Spanish Days. Stewardship of our city’s history is an important component of the organization’s work, said Osborn, who is active with the parlor’s History and Landmarks Committee.

Leading up to this year’s Fiesta, Osborn said, “The highlight really has been meeting all of these people you wouldn’t get to meet otherwise. To see the pageantry of it and the dancing and the talent at all of the events and the parties has been really great. Meeting the dance parents and all of the longtime locals who are really involved in all the different aspects of Fiesta is really fun.“

She’s most looking forward to taking part in La Fiesta Pequeña ( “Little Fiesta”), the official opening of Old Spanish Days at the Old Mission on Wednesday, August 3, where she’ll walk out of the chapel doors in full regalia (which includes carrying the martyr’s palm frond and golden chalice) to be announced as part of the pageantry of the colorful, historical program, which also includes traditional songs and dance. 

“I’ve been getting a lot of practice walking with the cape,” says Osborn, who was born and raised in Orange County and moved to Santa Barbara eight years ago. She also said she’s really looking forward to having out of town friends and family visit and introducing them to all of the fun and pageantry and traditions of Fiesta. —Leslie Dinaberg


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