It is nearly 2,200 miles from the home of El Nopal in neighboring Mexico to Santa Cruz County. Yet, those who love this essential ingredient of Mexican cooking need not book an airplane flight or pack themselves into the family car to experience the culture and culinary wonder of nopales. Lovers of the prickly cactus need only travel to downtown Santa Cruz this July to enjoy a truly community building event celebrating this native food, the 4th Annual Festival del Nopal.
For hundreds of years, the cactus, particularly the prickly pear cactus, has long been a staple in the diet of many Mexican and Latin American people. Also revered as a source of national pride in Mexico, the prickly pear cactus is featured on the Mexican flag with an eagle standing atop the cactus and a serpent caught in its beak to symbolize the location where the ancient Aztecs were instructed by their gods to build the great City of Tenochtitlan, where Mexico City now stands. It was this native pride that gave rise to the original idea for a local celebration of el nopal.
In 2010, a group led by Santa Cruz City Council Member Tony Madrigal formed to organize and plan the event now known as the Festival Del Nopal. From its modest beginnings in an open space next the downtown library, the festival has grown rapidly and now welcomes several thousand festivalgoers and lovers of nopales every year.
Now in its fourth year, the 4th Annual Festival del Nopal has settled into its new home on Lincoln Street in downtown Santa Cruz, appropriately enough on the site of the weekly Farmer’s Market. Once again, people will travel from all over the Central Coast to dance to the bandas, enjoy the folkloric, laugh with the clowns, enter their own family recipes in the cooking contest and applaud the crowning of the Queen of the Festival.
But what makes the Festival del Nopal truly unique is the opportunity it provides to experience a Mexican heritage and culture that is such a vibrant part of life on the Central Coast. Festival organizers are justifiably proud of the contribution this event makes to community building and cultural understanding in our home region. They believe that the richness of our ethnic diversity can be celebrated through the mutual enjoyment of dance, song and food.
It is said “as el nopal binds the food of life, so it will create the bonds of friendship and family for all those who join together in its celebration and enjoyment”. So come join the family of el nopal in downtown Santa Cruz on Sunday, July 28th from 10-6.
Added to the calendar on Sunday Jun 30th, 2013 1:06 PM