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TCF starts celebration with festive, Carnival-themed costumes

Saturday, judges welcomed community designers for the Texas Citrus Fiesta’s (TCF) Product Costume and Style Show, kicking off the celebration with this year’s theme of “A Noche de Carnaval”. The Mission Event Center welcomed contestants to show their creativity in traditional folk art.

Judges Adela Ortega, Maxine Rodriguez Grissom, and Irene Tagle sat at the center back wall of the Ruby Red Ballroom, eyes set on each detail as participants lined up to walk down the runway.

This year’s theme of A Noche de Carnaval focused on the pre-Lenten Catholic celebration, seen worldwide in places such as Brazil, Mexico, and Italy, filled with parades, balls, and other festivities before people start their fast and sacrifice during Lent.

Two participants in the Youth category walked first: six-year-old Noah Young and thirteen-year-old Tyra Alvarez.

Alvarez and her mom, Dalia Vivian, stole the show with their costume of Sales Girl, a multi-piece costume assembled in one month and two weeks.

“I started in the middle of November,” said Vivian, whose daughter participated in the product costume show for the last ten years.

The Sales Girl costume was covered head to toe in product — with pepitas, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, citrus seeds, orange, grapefruit, lime, and lemon peels apparent in the design. Props, such as lollipops, cupcakes, balloons, and the vendor box, covered in citrus slices, were dusted in ground citrus, bougainvillea, and fine glitter. Hydrated lemon leaves accented the green color of her dress.

Not only did the costume radiate the product, but the sweetness from the baked citrus lingered for those who came to look at it. The costume even won the People’s Choice Award.

“People should know a lot about it,” said Vivian of the Product Costume & Style Show. “It’s really important.”

It was challenging, especially for Alvarez, who does classes at UTRGV, to find time to complete the piece. Due to classes and schedule conflicts, Alvarez and Vivian started in November.

“We managed to finish it. It took a lot of effort and time,” said Alvarez. “I mostly stayed up a little late just in case, and I’d wake up a little early in the morning to try and finish and help around as much as I can.”

Vivian said her daughter came up with the concept.

“It’s not a festival without the sweets, candies, and food,” Alvarez said. “I thought, just maybe, I want to be a salesperson. They sell almost everything.”

Butterfly Kisses, a butterfly-inspired headpiece by Yvonne Ayala, won first in the hat category. Ayala, a Mission native, wanted to represent her city and its history with TCF, finding inspiration in the butterfly statues scattered across the municipality.

Yvonne Ayala models the hat she designed on the runway at the Mission Event Center.

The hat, covered in cenizo and burnt mesquite, is accented with two large butterfly wings accented with dried lemon. Dried orange peels form flowers with acorn caps as pistils around the hat. Ribbons covered in dried orange leaves cascaded down from the butterfly wings, flowing softly behind Ayala as she walked.

Due to her occupation as a teacher, Ayala had limited time to craft.

“It starts around November. It takes like a good two months,” said Ayala.

While designing, Ayala experienced creative blocks, unsure of which direction to take the art piece.

Jose Rene Venecia won second place with his Vietnam-inspired hat using tangerine, orange, and lime peels, huaje seeds, sunflower seeds, and native Valley plants as a top piece to the base of the hat. TCF veteran designer Rosie Olivarez took home third for her orange, lemon, onion, floral, and palm-accented top hat.

Adult division participant Bryson Olivarez took home second place for his flashy Dragon Warrior look, while Sandra Martinez’s fun, orange, and grapefruit jester took third. Sara Young won first place with her Mardi Gras tourist outfit inspired by a Louisiana trip.

“My husband and I went to New Orleans one time, and we saw that they have the Mardi Gras festival. So while we were there, I was trying to think of some things that I saw and relate to carnival,” Sara said. “We like being tourists to places. We like to show up as a guest, and that’s where I got inspired with that.”

The outfit, modeled by Sara’s husband, Caleb, comes with a hat, a vest, a shirt, shorts, and shoes. The hat, colored from pulverized burnt orange peel, is accented with citrus leaves and a handful of lemon slices. Cantelope seeds outline the bougainvillea and lemon-colored vest adorned with acorn buttons. A mosaic of citrus slices adorning the back canvas. The shorts and shoes are the same dark color of burnt orange peel.

The costume build, which totaled three days, was challenging while Sara homeschooled her children while having a baby on the way.

She began on January 3 and finished the night before the costume event, just in time for her husband to model.

Sara has participated in the costume show since she was 12 years old and continues to do so because of tradition amongst family and friends.

“We do this all together. I have half of my family in it for the participants this year,” said Sara. “So we all get to share it since we’ve been doing it for so long.”

Despite this tradition continuing among some, 65-year-old  Venecia, who has participated for 15 years, worries about the future of the Product Costume Show.

“I’ve been participating for many years because I don’t want this tradition to die. But every year, I see less and less participation,” said Venecia.

In 2019, eight costumes and four hats highlighted the “Citrus Celebrates Hollywood Movies” costume show with Winter Texans visiting via bus from San Antonio.

“It’s one of a kind, and it makes Mission shine,” Venecia said.

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