Long existing as an all-but-forgotten outpost in Mexico's northern frontier, Tucson's customs have deep indigenous/Mexican/Catholic roots. The annual calendar here is still defined by Catholic and folk celebrations, and June 24 marks St. John the Baptist's Feast Day - La Fiesta de San Juan. Without the Santa Cruz River, Tucson's existence would not have been possible, and as the desert hermit who baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, San Juan has special meaning for Mexican families. Tucson's seasonal calendar also turns around this time; from the dry summer months of May & June towards the summer monsoon season; which generally begins around the 1st of July.
El Día de San Juan is a day for musicians to serenade people named Juan or Juana at dawn, for family picnics by sources of water, and for engaging in water fights and bathing. Because water was used in the baptizing of Jesus, it was believed to have special powers on this day. For example, if one had eye problems, cures were sought by washing one's eyes in a stream.
La Fiesta de San Juan begins with a religious procession carrying a statue of St. John the Baptist to his customary altar to preside over the fiesta-- followed by a blessing ceremony performed by Aztec dancers. There follows an evening of live music and dance, games, piñata-breaking for kids, and food & craft vendors.
Historically, the fiesta also included lively celebrations and competitions on horseback. From the late 19th Century into the early 20th, there was a popular sport called Corrida de Gallos (Rooster Game). It involved burying a rooster up to its neck in sand while young men on horseback took turns racing towards it, attempting to pull it out of the ground as they galloped by. Due to its violence it was eventually discontinued. For many years, incredible young charras (horsewomen) known as Escaramuzas ("skirmish") put on rousing performances conducting elaborate dressage maneuvers at a full gallop, riding sidesaddle. Sadly, this rich tradition has been absent in recent Fiesta de San Juan's.
In my painting, I have tried to capture the essences of the many peoples and factions that give summer its meaning here in Sonoran Arizona:
La Corua Codex
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