BARSTOW • For Barstow resident Elaine Peralta, this weekend's Fifth Annual New Mexico Chili Cook-Off and Belen Fiesta will be a taste of home.

Peralta, whose family has been involved in organizing the fiesta for the past four years, moved to Barstow from Belen, N.M., in 1983, but she and her family hang onto traditions from back home. She has vivid memories of the Our Lady of Belen Fiesta held in her hometown every August, which Barstow's festival is modeled on.

Her family visits New Mexico frequently, bringing red and green chilis back to Barstow, and every December, they hold a family get-together with traditional New Mexico-style fare.

This weekend, the Peraltas will set up a stand at the chili cook-off to sell New Mexico style enchiladas — which are flat, not rolled like Mexican enchiladas — and chili burgers with green chili.

The whole family helps out, including her husband Joe, sister, brother-in-law, and her two daughters, Peralta said.

"That day, everyone shows up and just jumps in," she said.

Meliton "Mel" Otero, another fiesta organizer, moved to Barstow with his father, who worked for the railroad, when he was four or five years old.  Now he is 61, but like Peralta, he has strong memories of fiestas in New Mexico, even in the tiny town of Willard where he was born.

"Even that little town has fiestas — not as extravagant as this one is getting to be," he said.

Otero will be working the lights during performances at this year's fiesta, as well as playing a couple of numbers on the saxophone with the band Familia Dos, which is a family effort.

The close-knit community of New Mexico transplants is like a family, Otero said, and events like the fiesta help them hang onto their traditions.

"When you come to Barstow, you start losing your heritage, and that's one good thing about having this fiesta — you bring back your heritage," he said.

Barstow's fiesta is a joint venture between the Barstow Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Dos Costas Communications-owned radio stations 95.9, 94.5 and 102.5 FM. This year, the festivities have expanded from one to two days, and organizers added a carnival in the lower Dana Park parking lot, a car show, and a dance Saturday night featuring popular New Mexico musician Al Hurricane.

Also new this year, representatives of the Mexican consulate in San Bernardino will be setting up a booth to provide services like passport photos and visa extensions.

Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President and Dos Costas Vice President of Marketing Manny Lopez — who was raised in Los Angeles, but whose father came from New Mexico — said organizers expect a turnout of about 7,000 throughout the two days, with many people coming from outside of Barstow and even from as far as New Mexico. He anticipated about 20 contestants in the chili cook-off, up from last year's 14.

"The community was looking for more, and we also wanted to do a little bit more," he said on this year's more ambitious festivities.

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4123 or

Fifth Annual New Mexico Chili Cook-off and Belen Fiesta
Where: Dana Park, 850 Barstow Road
Cost: Free for events at Dana Park, $15 for Saturday night dance

Event schedule:
• Carnival opens at 4 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Vendor booths open 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Mexican consulate booth is open Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
• Events Saturday begin at 8 a.m. with a fiesta mass at St. Joseph's Catholic Church, 505 E. Mountain View St., followed by procession to the park and a fiesta blessing. Car show opens at 11:30 a.m. Saturday. Dignitaries including Barstow Mayor Joe Gomez, Belen, N.M., Mayor Ronnie Torres and Congressman Joe Baca speak Saturday and Sunday at noon, followed by musical, martial arts and dance performances all afternoon until 6 p.m. Dance contest Sunday 4:45 to 5:15 p.m.
• Dance at Cora Harper Community Center, 841 Barstow Road, Saturday night 7 p.m. to midnight, with Al Hurricane, Al Hurricane, Jr., and the Hurricane Band.
• Chili cook-off registration is Sunday  11:45 to 2:45 p.m., with cook-off starting at 3 p.m. and winners announced at 6 p.m.
For more information, call Maria or Manuel at 760-256-2121.