SAFFORD — The Gila Valley will have the opportunity to celebrate its Hispanic heritage with the fifth annual Un Gran Exito Fiesta this Saturday at the Ag building at Graham County Fairgrounds.
This year’s event is the first for the newly formed Eastern Arizona Hispanic Heritage Corporation, but the principals of that nonprofit have been the braintrust of each of the previous Hispanic Heritage festivals in the Gila Valley.
Which means plenty of what everyone has come to love about the festival — traditional Hispanic foods, live mariachi music and dancing, games for the children and more.
This year’s featured entertainment is Mariachi Tesoro de Tucson, Mariachi Sonido de Mexico and Compania de Danza Folklorico Arizona.
As it did during the inaugural Un Gran Exito Fiesta in Morenci in September, Eastern Arizona Hispanic Heritage Corporation will use the event to honor a family and teacher of the year.
This year’s teacher of the year is Safford’s BB Andrews. Born and raised in Safford, Andrews attended Safford schools and, while in high school, was all-state in three sports: football, basketball and baseball.
He attended Eastern Arizona College for two years and finished baseball as an all-American. That helped him get a scholarship to Grand Canyon University, where he played for two years.
After graduating, he returned to Safford and, after substitute teaching, he was hired as a full-time teacher in the Safford Unified School District, where he has taught and coached for the last 46 years.
His teams have won 36 regional titles and 27 state titles. He is a seven-time Arizona State Coach of the Year, the Arizona Interscholastic Association Girls Track Coach of the 20th Century (1925-2000), he has been inducted into the Arizona Coaches Hall of Fame in 2004, he is the 2004 National High School Federation Coach of the Year, a three-time National High School Federation Region 8 Coach of the Year (1992-2002-2004), the 2019 Region 8 Coach of the Year and, in 2018, he was inducted into the National High School Federation National Hall of Fame.
The family of the year is the Valenzuela family.
“We are a family of music and school educators. Our father, Dr. Valenzuela (Dr. V), started the music program at Davis Bilingual Elementary School during the early 1980s. He began his teaching career in 1971 at Mission View Elementary School, then he transferred to Hollinger Elementary and finally ended up at Davis Elementary,” said Jaime Valenzuela. “Davis is where Dr. V started Mariachi Las Aguilitas, and it was from Davis where the Valenzuela family legacy began. From this point forward, the family dedicated their lives to teaching and sharing the Mexican tradition of mariachi music.
“Countless other mariachi groups have started from Mariachi Las Aguilitas (Davis School). Almost every youth group in Tucson has ties to Mariachi Las Aguilitas due to members who have started from Davis. Our very own Mariachi Estrellas de Tucson is our latest group. It is thriving in our mariachi community and is becoming known as one of the top youth mariachi groups in Tucson.”
This year’s guest speaker is local attorney L. Scott Bennett. In March of 2011, he accepted the position of chief deputy at the Graham County Attorney’s Office, and has handled nearly all major prosecutions occurring in Graham County for nearly nine years.
In 2017, Bennett was named State of Arizona Prosecutor of the Year and is currently pursuing a master’s degree through Southern Utah University.
Un Gran Exito Fiesta is Saturday, Nov. 16, from 1-11:30 p.m., at Graham County Fairgrounds.