KJ Photo by: Kenneth Jones

Oxnard celebrates everything salsa

20 years of spicy tradition

By Carla Iacovetti 07/25/2013

 

Salsa has now passed ketchup as America’s favorite condiment. Isn’t that amazing? You know it’s bad when even our vegetables are starting to lose their jobs to Mexico. – Jay Leno



When Oxnard local Peggy Rivera won best amateur medium salsa at the Oxnard Salsa Festival in 2011, she hadn’t anticipated where such a victory would land her. Rivera attributes her love for salsa to her mother and her family roots.


“My mother always made homemade salsa growing up, and I continued with her tradition, making homemade salsa for my family and friends,” she said. Her victory at the festival, however, was a surprise. “I never expected to win, but it’s changed my life.”


The following year, the Rivera family was hit hard by the recession. Rivera wanted to market her salsas and take a percentage of her profits to help support a local nonprofit; but she did not know how to make that happen, especially without financial backing. Her boss at Applied Merchants, an organization that is affiliated with the H.O.P.E. (Helping Our Poor and Elderly) program, talked with her about her vision. From their initial conversation, Sabor Maggie’s Best began and FOOD Share became the recipient of a percentage of her profits. The Banana Festival at Port Hueneme was the first event where Rivera sold her salsas, and to her utter wonder, she sold 10 cases. In selling her salsa, she gets to give back simultaneously.


But Rivera isn’t a stranger to helping the needy. In fact, she holds the chair of the commission on homelessness in the city of Oxnard. Raised by a single mother and her grandmother, Rivera was taught to give back to the less fortunate.

 


  Bonnie Weigel, CEO of FOOD Share, and Jesse Rodriquez
won the Oxnard Salsa Festival People’s Choice Award at
Dancing with Our Community Stars, 2009.
 


“I want to encourage people to follow their dreams. I don’t know where this will take me, but it’s given me an opportunity to do something that I love, while helping those in need, and you can’t beat that,” Rivera said.


Rivera isn’t the only success story from the festival. In 2008, Roseanne Waltip won the best mild salsa. Since then, Waltip has founded Roseanne’s Salsa Company, a local business that delivers fresh, chunky salsa to clients in Ventura County.  


The word “salsa” encompasses a lot.  This little five-letter word has an interesting origin.  In an article published in Latin Beat Magazine, Max Salazar wrote, “The popular usage of the word ‘salsa’ for danceable Latin music began in 1933 when Cuban song composer Ignacio Piñeiro wrote the song “Échale Salsita.” The late Alfredo Valdés Sr., whom I interviewed in 1974, said ‘On July 6, 1933, I married Anita Purmuy, guitarist for the all-female band La Anacaona. I didn’t have a honeymoon because hours later I was on a boat with (Septeto) Nacional headed toward Miami … then on to the Chicago World’s Fair. On the train I rehearsed Ignacio’s new work “Échale Salsita.” He got the idea after tasting food, which lacked the Cuban spices. It was a protest against tasteless food.’ ”

 


  Peggy Rivera of Oxnard won best
  amateur salsa at the 2011 Oxnard Salsa
  Festival. She now bottles and sells her
  salsa throughout Ventura County.


On July 27 and 28, Oxnard will embrace the spice, the music and the dancing as it celebrates Oxnard’s rich agricultural legacy and Latin cultural diversity at the 20th Annual Oxnard Salsa Festival.


“When we created this 20 years ago, we wanted to come up with a way to attract the community to downtown Oxnard,” said Gary Blum, who is on the board of directors at the Downtown Oxnard Merchant’s Association (Oxnard Downtowners). “At the time, we had a lot of Mexican restaurants, so we came up with the concept of doing a salsa festival. It was all about the condiment.”


For the first few years, it was only a one-day event, but with the rise in popularity of salsa, the affair expanded. In 1999, things shifted when Ruth Ballin became the festival director. Ballin incorporated it, and the festival became a celebration of “everything salsa.” Now, the festival showcases a wide array of salsa, foods, live music and dance.

 


  Former Salsa Festival Director Ruth Ballin (center),
with current Director Kellie Meehan (left) and
Sheila Jenkins, operations manager.

 
“The committee that has put this event on are a pretty incredible group of people, and they are incredibly dedicated to the community and to the success of this festival,” Blum said. It is a great spotlight event for downtown Oxnard at large. The festival has done amazing things for downtown Oxnard, bringing awareness to the city as people from everywhere come to participate in this festive event.”


“From the minute you arrive, you’re thrust into a Latin, all-around feel-good event. With the professional stage and sound company we’ve hired, the music permeates the festival site and takes center stage. It can be heard wherever you are,” Ballin said.


It is not just about feeling, but also about tasting. The salsa tasting tent combines a number of local restaurants and gourmet salsa purveyors sharing the best of the best. For the salsa aficionado, this mega salsa bar will provide more than 50 salsas to choose from. From hot to mild, spicy, smoky and fruity salsas are ready to be sampled and bought. A $5 ticket will allow unlimited access into the tent, plus a bag of fresh Mission tortilla chips.

 


Photo by Kenneth Jones


This year, Rivera will be selling Sabor Maggie’s Best at the Salsa Festival in space 38, right in front of the salsa tasting tent. She will be selling the 2011 winner, plus salsa chili japones (toasted Japanese chilis) and the 2012 winner, roasted jalapeño salsa.


The event kicks off on Friday night, July 26, with a concert featuring Tito Puente, Jr. and his orchestra. The famed percussionist has performed on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, NBC’s two-hour special The Apollo at 70: A Hot Night in Harlem, and in casinos, performing arts centers, jazz festivals and symphony halls around the world. Tickets for the concert are $15 per person, and can be purchased on the festival website at www.oxnardsalsafestival.com or call 247-0197 (gates open at 6 p.m.).

 


Other entertainment includes Orquesta Charangoa, dance performances featuring dancers from both Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, and Son Mayor, the Los Angeles-based salsa band (voted the “Best Salsa Band” by L.A. Weekly). From San Francisco comes Rumbaché, the young, vibrant salsa band, blending funk, salsa, timba and bomba into a fresh, original sound. For the classic Latin big band sound of New York City, Angel Lebron y su Sabor Latino promises to entertain.

 
Dancing With Our Community Stars (a dance contest and charity fundraiser) is a big highlight event at the festival. Oxnard’s version of Dancing With the Stars television show has been a huge success. The contest has provided a vehicle to raise money for local charities, and over the last five years, it has raised more than $300,000.  


With only nine weeks of rehearsal time, the best salsa instructors in the region will be paired up with local “stars” to compete before a panel of judges. Bonnie Weigel from FOOD Share, Sandra Laby for Ventura Music Festival, John Crombach for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Oxnard/Port Hueneme, and George Cogswell for Big Brothers/Big Sister, are some of the favored dancers competing. The public can vote by making donations in support of their favorite dancers and charities. This year, the festival hopes to raise another $50,000 or more with this contest. Other charities that are represented are Casa Pacifica, Gull Wings Children’s Museum, the Rebozo Festival, FOOD Share, ACT Today and Teatro de las Americas.

 
Bonnie Weigel, FOOD Share’s CEO, cannot say enough good things about this festival. Five years ago, FOOD Share was picked to participate in the Dancing With Our Community salsa competition. It was an event she will never forget.


“I’m not a dancer; in fact, my instructor was very kind when he told me I have no rhythm. But he was amazing,” Weigel said. “He built upon my strengths, and I won the event. This was the most successful cause marketing campaign that I’ve ever been involved with. We raised over $48,000 for FOOD Share that year. It was a great way to build awareness for our nonprofit while sharing in this amazing celebrated event.”


This year, FOOD Share is participating again, and Joe Schroeder, Ventura County Credit Union CEO and FOOD Share’s vice chair, is currently training for the event.


“Joe is larger than life, with a John Wayne type personality, so I’ll be eager to see how he embraces dancing. He’s not a dancer either,” Weigel said.


Weigel appreciates the fact that the contest is not overly competitive but very collabor       ative. “It’s a beautiful thing to come together in a light-hearted, entertaining way and raise awareness for various charities in the community,” she said.


Philanthropy is not just about large numbers; every dollar counts. “The salsa competition only takes one dollar. Little grandmas and kids give a dollar to support their favorite dancer. Everyone gets involved. It engages people at different levels – with a dollar everyone gets a chance at supporting a charity. I love this,” Weigel said.


The Yard House, Oxnard’s newest restaurant and brewery, located in The Collection at RiverPark, donated $2,000 (which is 2,000 votes) toward the salsa competition in celebration of its grand opening.  “Our goal is to reach $50,000 dollars by the end of July. We have a long way to go, but we’re grateful and excited for the challenge,” Weigel said.


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The festival is family-friendly and will offer not only various activities for adults, but also a number of things scheduled for children at the Kids Korner. There will be an art and craft booth set up by Oxnard’s Art and Music Factory, where the salsa theme will continue, using real tortillas. Gloria Hidrogo, a graduate of Mexico’s Bellas Artes, is the Art and Music Factory’s director of art.  Hidrogo will concentrate on giving the kids various art projects that emphasize positive affirmation, conservation and recycling.  Along with the various art projects, there will be a climbing wall, a slide and a giant maze and a “bounce house” for smaller children.


More than 100 arts, crafts and retail exhibitors will provide a diverse shopping experience for festival-goer’s. Shoppers can comb the streets and choose from Latin American imports, handcrafted jewelry, hats, sunglasses, toys, gourmet sauces, Mexican pottery, potted succulents and various clothing.


The Oxnard Salsa Festival is one of Southern California’s renowned summer events.  It is a two-day extravaganza celebrating everything salsa – the food, the music and the dance. 


The 20th Annual Oxnard Salsa Festival, July 27 and 28 in Oxnard, will take place in Plaza Park. General admission and parking are free.


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