MISSION – Walk into Jovita Garza’s home and a light citrusy aroma fills the air.
Looking to discover the aroma’s origin one’s eyes fall on bright colors on her living room wall with tables and sofas covered with what one might first assume are craft items.
Those items, however, are much more. They’re also the reason for that fresh smell.
Jovita Garza sifts some dehydrated and pulverized leaves from orange, lemon and grapefruit onto the costume she is making for the annual Citrus Fiesta Costume Show on Saturday, Jan. 14 at the Mission Community Center. Progress Times photos by Henry Miller
For more than a month Garza and family members have been preparing their entries for the annual Texas Citrus Fiesta Product Costume Show where rules require costumes are comprised of at least 50 percent of citrus and other products grown in the Valley and incorporated into costumes that include evening gowns, hats and accessories.
Contestants will display their entries tomorrow at 2 p.m. at the Mission Community Center, 14210 E. Kika de la Garza. The show is the kickoff to the annual Texas Citrus Fiesta, an event that has been held in Mission since December 1932.
For the fourth straight year Garza is heavily involved preparing her 16-year-old granddaughter Briana Garza’s dress for the event. On Jan. 6 the products in their efforts were strewn throughout her living room. The outfit includes a dress, earrings, shoes, basket and a hat.
Garza’s daughter, Dalia Vivian, 40, is also designing a dress and her other daughter, Sylvia Gonzalez, 36, is designing hats this year, Garza said.
Garza’s family is among eight contestants in this year’s costume show, said Sylvia Vick, who chairs the event.
Vick said she started out as a designer about six years ago and worked her way up to chairwoman. During the past half dozen years she said up to 20 contestants have submitted costumes but she said it seems each year there are fewer participants.
“That’s because it’s so time and labor intensive,” said Vick. “People just don’t have the time.”
The Garza family is helping to keep the tradition alive.
“They chose the theme, ‘fun and flowers,’ for this year’s pageant,” Garza said. “Last year it was cartoons and comics,” and Briana was dressed as Tinkerbell.
Using oranges, lemons, pumpkin seeds, sunflowers, purple bougainvillea and other plants and leaves, Garza and another granddaughter, Sara Gonzalez, 17, have also been immersed in preparing Sara’s costume.
“You definitely can use your imagination,” said Gonzalez, who created a backpack for her hiker costume, using palm tree bark. “But you have to make a lot of product for all the decorating.”
Opening up a bag of finely dehydrated then pulverized orange tree, grapefruit tree and lemon tree leaves, Garza pours some into a coriander to spread over one corner of the dress which has been prepped with glue to keep the mixture from falling off. She spreads it out evenly. Later she will place flowers in an upside down “V” pattern along the front of the dress to complete it.
“I used to sew a long time ago,” she said. “But stopped and now I’m doing it again. I really enjoy it and love to see my granddaughters wearing it. I get tired at times, having to go and get the product, especially. It takes a lot of time.”
Alongside the dress on the table are containers and zip-lock bags filled with dehydrated and pulverized plants and fruits Garza uses to decorate it. While most of the colors are earthy, the bougainvillea’s purple brightly stands out.
As much as Garza enjoys the sewing and decorating, she is especially fond of the conceptual part; coming up with the idea and the color scheme.
“We have to make a sketch and really use our minds to come up with something that’s fun and tells a story,” she said. “Then you have to go find the colors and make the product. You can get very creative.”
Making the product can take the most time. First is gathering the leaves, then dehydrating them. That alone can take 15 hours or more if one doesn’t have a dehydrating machine. But Garza said the leaves can also be infected with swarms of insects, meaning it’s time to try again.
After the dehydrating comes a baking process. The longer the dehydrated product bakes, the darker it becomes, said Garza. Sometimes, however, the color just doesn’t come out right and the process starts over again.
Garza has the dress finished and is ready for the Citrus Fiesta events.
The following week on Saturday, Jan. 21, there will be the Royal Reception at the Mission Community Center. And on Thursday, Jan. 26 the Royal Coronation of King Citrus and Queen Citrianna happens at 7 p.m. at Mission High School’s Neuhaus Center. On Saturday, Jan. 28 the Fun Fair begins at 10 a.m. and the Parade of Oranges starts at 3 p.m. on Conway Ave.