A Makeshift Disney World
With November right around the corner excitement begins to creep up on the small town of Immokalee, Florida. Not because of Thanksgiving, the Macy’s Day parade or the Christmas shopping season. There’s something else that is causing this pleasant stir, the week long annual fair.
While the town is getting ready for this long awaited event ten year old Juan Mendoza and his family aren’t sure that they’ll be able to make it this year. This is all due to their financial situation. The family can barely scrape by with the minimum wage that his dad makes working on a local farm. But now with the fair coming, the pressure to earn money is heavier. “I love to see my kids happy,” says Mendoza’s dad, “That’s why I work, for them. But I’m not sure what’s going to happen this year with the fair.”
Like many families in Immokalee, the Mendoza family looks forward to going to the fair every year. “It’s a big social event,” says Mendoza, “Not many things happen here in Immokalee, but the fair, that happens every year. So everybody gets excited when November comes around.” And this excitement is extremely noticeable throughout the town. Posters filled with reds, blues and yellows of the fair are put up around town, and, La Ley 92.1 (the local radio station) starts advertising the raffles that will be taking place opening day and lines begin to form outside the offices of the Catholic Church where tickets are being sold.
As a result, Mendoza’s four younger siblings begin to bombard their mom with questions, “Is the fair coming tomorrow? When can we go? Why haven’t we bought our tickets yet?” and with a sad smile their mom tries to shush their questions with a bit of tortilla all the while giving Mendoza’s dad a worried looked. “I know we’re not the only family who’s having this problem,” says Mendoza, “my older sister and her husband aren’t sure that they’re going either. And I guess it’s harder for my dad since we are a big family.”
As the days go by and the opening of the fair gets near, there is a bit of melancholy in the household. The children are becoming restless and Mendoza’s parents are starting to feel the pressure of what now has become a financial burden. Even Mendoza is starting to find himself staring across the street at the vacant lot that the Catholic Church owns. “That’s where the fair’s going to be,” says Mendoza pointing to the lot across the street. “It gets so crowded when it finally starts. It actually amazes me to see so many people in one place.” Not taking his eyes off of the lot he begins to talk again, “Did I tell you that my mom is selling tickets for the fair? Well yeah she is. She doesn’t get any money from it. Everything that she earns from the tickets goes back to the church.” When asked why his mom would sell tickets voluntarily he simply says, “She wants to support her faith.” This attitude can be seen throughout the fair. Many of the families that are devote Catholics volunteer at the food stands, others (like Mendoza’s mom) sell tickets, and some go to the fair as a means of support.
While Mendoza’s mom is supporting the church Mendoza’s dad seems to be on the brink of a meltdown. “They really want to go to the fair,” says Mendoza’s dad as he looks worriedly into his cold cup of coffee. “I’ve been asking for overtime and thank God they’ve given it to me. But I’m not sure if it’s enough.”
Finally the day has come, opening day. By 6:00 p.m. there is loud Spanish music playing in the background and smells of tacos, corn, and salsa start wafting into the open windows of the nearby houses. The sounds of D.J.’s having sound check begin to mix with the cool air of fall. And all of this can be heard, seen and smelled from the Mendoza household. The children are buzzing but Mendoza and his parents are having a very serious conversation. “We only have tickets for two nights. Only two nights,” says Mendoza’s dad sternly to Mendoza and his mom. “We’re going to make this work. Ok?” With huge smiles they both nod in agreement. “Ok, get those kids ready. We’re going to the fair.”
“We’re going to the fair! We’re going to the fair!” sang the children as they ran up and down the small hallway. “We’re not going until I get you four in your clothes!” shouted Mendoza’s mom as she ran behind the children with a smile on her face. The atmosphere of the fair outside seemed to come in through the open windows. There wasn’t a single trace of the last few weeks of worrying. Even Mendoza, who seemed to be the level headed of the family, got caught up in preparing to go to the fair. “You think it’s awesome now? Oh wait ‘til you see the fair!” he yelled cheerfully from his room. After the clothes were wrestled onto the squirming children the family was finally ready. “We’re going walking. That’s how everyone who lives nearby does it.” upon saying this the family were met with a sea of cars, trucks and vans that were filled to the bursting point with people. The fair had begun.
After paying the $1 fee at the gate the Mendoza family couldn’t help looking around. The church grounds seemed to have suddenly transformed overnight into it Disney World, one with an extremely low budget. But this didn’t seem to matter to the family. The four younger children’s screams of joy mixed in with the sounds of the rides and the music of the local radio station. Then there were the smells coming from the white stands that were being constructed earlier. Is that barbeque? Pizza? Tacos? It didn’t seem to matter. The preparation that had taken place; all the hard work that had been put into this had finally paid off. What was left? That’s easy. To go and enjoy the night. Because all that matter now was that the family was here, the Mendoza family had finally made it.