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How an 83-year-old TCF tradition has withstood the decades
JoAnn Ortiz is determined to keep a nearly century-old tradition going in Mission.
The Product Costume Showcase, along with the Shoe Box Float competition, are some of the stapes of the Texas Citrus Fiesta. Done in celebration of the citrus industry in the area, these events encourage creativity and highlight artistic expression for people of all ages.
For Ortiz, the new coordinator for the Product Costume Showcase, these aspects of the Texas Citrus Fiesta are incredibly important.
“It’s a part of us, we cultivate it here,” Ortiz said. “It should be a tradition where we need to display how proud we are of all the farmers and all their cultivation of the produce.”
Ortiz began volunteering with TCF over a decade ago, when her daughter was a Girl Scout. She started out helping with crafts and learning about how the citrus and other local produce is incorporated.
“I’ve done a little bit of everything because I fell in love with creating, and helping out and all these beautiful things I was taught,” Ortiz said. “And now, I’m still here.”
Ortiz was hooked, and is consistently struck by the beauty of the tradition.
“I’m so proud to be part of it,” Ortiz said. “It’s something very easy but very beautiful that people can make with their parents and siblings, and pass it on.”
To make a product costume, designers have to start from scratch: they take parts of produce that can be used for structure, coloring and design and process them, distilling their decorative qualities. Costumes, created based on the theme for that iteration of TCF, are constructed with layers of product, glue and spray adhesive.
Ortiz has been drawn to the product costume competition in particular because of all the final products evoke. The colors and smells of the costumes evoke waves of nostalgia in Ortiz.
“It takes me back when you would go to the regular orange fields and you’d smell all the oranges and leaves,” Ortiz said. “What’s beautiful is you get to see it, smell it and feel it [with the costumes].”
According to Ortiz, designers take a lot of time and effort to put the final product on display for the judges.
“You see how beautiful it is, all the time and commitment that they put in and how much they love it,” Ortiz said. “It makes me so proud of Mission.”
The issue currently facing the TCF Product Costume Showcase and the Shoebox Float Competition is the lack of participation among residents. Ortiz is working daily to bring in more participants and keep the tradition alive.
“We need to keep the tradition,” Ortiz said. “We can’t let the people [who participated] in the past fade away, we need to keep going.”
“If we had more contestants, oh my gosh, it can show the world what we’re made of,” Ortiz added. “
The Shoebox Float Competition, where fourth and fifth grade students in the Mission, La Joya and Sharyland school districts create miniature, shoebox-sized floats designed around the TCF theme, has also seen a decline in entries in the last few years. This competition used to be an assignment in the schools, but it has since been made optional.
“I wish all the schools would make it a requirement, because it’s a part of our history,” Ortiz said. “That way, we can get the younger generations to be interested and involved.”
Ortiz said TCF is always open to those who are interested in the crafting of product costumes, hats and shoebox floats. She is available to host workshops of all kinds to people who call in and schedule one, and wants to start holding classes so even more residents can learn.
“We’re doing as much as possible to keep this going,” Ortiz said. “We want to see many people in our community that are creative, and how beautiful their work is. What they put in and give us is the passion they have, and it shows.”
For the TCF 2020 Product Costume Showcase, first place in the elementary division was awarded to the full-body costume of Lola Bunny from the film “Space Jam” designed by Dalia Vivian and modeled by Tyra Alvarez. This costume was also awarded the People’s Choice Award by members of the audience.
In the teen division, the first place winner was awarded to the Natasi costume, designed by Maria Magdalena Ponce and modelled by Martha Cruz. The adult division winner was Destiny Gonzalez, who designed and modeled her costume after Hela from “Thor Ragnarok.”
“We need to show people that this is another form of art,” Ortiz said. “We need to inspire them and make it bigger.”
For the Shoebox Float Competition, sponsored annually by the Progress Times, fourth grade winners were Tyra Alvarez in first place, Marina Gonzalez in second and Leah Sotello in third. Fifth grade winners included Zachary Gerlach in first place, Kimberly Arguello in second and Guillermo Maldonado in third.
“Here in the city of Mission we’re very proud of our history, and we just want to show the world where we started and how beautiful it is,” Ortiz said. “I’m hoping that I can bring young people to continue, we cannot let any of this fade. We need to keep going.”