Old Spanish Days – Fiesta

Santa Barbara, CA. July 31 - August 4, 2024

2023 Fiesta Parade Grand Marshal

Posted May 10, 2023

For the first time ever, an elder of the Chumash community has been selected as the Fiesta Parade Grand Marshal. Ernestine 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. 

2023 Fiesta Parade Grand Marshal
Barbareño Tribal Elder and 2023 Fiesta Parade Grand Marshal, Ernestine De Soto stands next to images of her mother, grandmother and great-great-grandmother

In announcing his selection of Ms. De Soto, 2023 El Presidente David Bolton said that honoring history, culture and traditions was fundamental in the Parade Grand Marshal selection. The announcement took place at the site where the important Chumash village Syuxtun meets the modern-day parade route on Cabrillo Boulevard at Ambassador Park.

“Old Spanish Days Fiesta is proud to honor Ernestine and the Chumash for their multi-generational contributions toward building the Santa Barbara community that we know today,” said 2023 El Presidente David Bolton. “The Chumash were here first, and they remain here today. They have played an important role in our history. They truly deserve this honor.” 

Ernestine De Soto’s ancestors lived for many years at Syuxtun, observed by Spanish explorer Juan Cabrillo in 1542 as the dominant Chumash village between Gaviota and Carpinteria. Ernestine’s great, great grandmother Maria Ygnacia was the last survivor of those who had been born at this powerful village.

“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 Ernestine 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.”

Ernestine De Soto’s family has rich and deep roots in Santa Barbara and the Americas. Experts have traced her ancestors back 13,000+ years in the Americas using DNA technology to identify Haplogroup D – one of the oldest DNA categories. 

Her mother, Mary Yee, is regarded as the last native speaker of the Chumash language. Ernestine’s nephew James Yee is studying for his doctorate in linguistics as efforts to keep alive the Chumash language continue.

“In our 178-member Chumash Ygnacio family alone, we represent the multi-ethnic diversity that is modern Santa Barbara. Our family today reflects many groups--Chumash, Chinese, Mexican, English, Norwegian, Danish, Filipino, French, Italian and a host of other cultures that have contributed much to our community,” added Ms. De Soto who will ride in this year’s parade in a historic horse and carriage with other family members.

Fiesta 2023 runs August 2-6, with the historic parade, El Desfile Histórico, scheduled for Friday, August 4 at 12 noon along Cabrillo Boulevard, 500 horses are expected to be in the 2023 parade making one of the largest equestrian parades in the Country. 

As part of this year’s Fiesta parade, the San Salvador, a full-size replica of Juan Cabrillo’s ship that first spotted the Chumash village Syuxtun in 1542, will arrive in our waters on Friday at noon, and will offer free tours to the community throughout the weekend in the harbor.

“Old Spanish Days is excited to have the Fiesta Parade return to Cabrillo Boulevard,” said Division Chief of Pageantry Tony Miller. “Cabrillo Boulevard is one of our most historic stretches. It was an important area for the Chumash, later Spaniard Gaspar de Portola traveled along the route during his 1769 overland trek north, and the Boulevard is named after Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo whose ship the San Salvador came through our channel during that memorable moment in 1542.”

2023 Fiesta Parade Grand Marshal
Barbareño Tribal Elder and 2023 Fiesta Parade Grand Marshal, Ernestine De Soto with Tony Miller, Division Chief of Pageantry for Fiesta and 2023 El Presidente David Bolton standing next to the 2023 Fiesta poster and images of Ms. De Soto's ancestors

First held in 1924, Fiesta celebrates a period of romance and hospitality through pageantry, dance, music, costume and cuisine.   Old Spanish Days in Santa Barbara, Inc. is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit corporation dedicated to honoring and preserving Santa Barbara’s history, spirit, culture, heritage and traditions. Visit www.sbfiesta.org for more information or to make a tax-deductible donation. 

This year, both the sold out La Primavera and the July 30th La Recepción del Presidente fundraisers will feature an elegant "Four Nations Dinner" honoring the Chumash, Spain, Mexico and the United States.  Tickets to La Recepción del Presidente went on sale today at www.sbfiesta.org/tickets