RIO GRANDE CITY — With the varying Fourth of July celebrations that occur throughout the Valley, the community here wondered why they didn’t have a fireworks display of their own.
That finally changed three years ago with the creation of the Rio Grande City Freedom Fest that has steadily grown to include several events and vendors culminating in a fireworks display.
“Based on the requests from the community we decided to have this event and open it up to the public,” said Sara Hernandez, the city’s tourism director. “Each year it’s been getting a little bit bigger and better.”
The events include a cook-off, a kiddie carnival, a raffle, live musical performances, a softball tournament, and a firework show.
The one-day fest, which is held at Basilio Villarreal Park, also includes the Miss Freedom Fest Pageant which is held the weekend prior to the fest itself.
The cook-off has actually been running longer than the fest itself and is organized by the Rio Grande City Economic Development Corporation.
The ninth annual Chili Showdown is the first to be held in conjunction with the Freedom Fest.
“I like coming out here, the competition, getting to see everybody, getting to see the whole Rio Grande Valley get together,” said Joe Garza, who competes regularly with Prestige, a cook-off team sponsored by Prestige Home Health. “It’s a way to unite with everybody.”
The competition is part of the International Bar-B-Que Cookers Association and though an annual event, wasn’t held around the same time each year, according to Fred Lopez, EDC secretary. However, the EDC hopes to have consistency by holding it with Freedom Fest.
Although meant to commemorate Independence Day on July 4, the event scheduled two weekends before the holiday so as not to conflict with the celebration held in Roma.
“We never wanted to compete or take people away from that event,” Hernandez said. “It’s a very successful event…we just wanted to do it a different weekend.”
Planning for the fest begins in January and the city works to solicit sponsorships from businesses.
“We noticed that when we approach businesses and let them know this is something that we’re doing for our community and it’s free and it’s not going to cost anybody anything, then they’re more willing to donate and help us out,” Hernandez said of the fest, which has a budget of about $35 to $40 thousand.
“We’ve been very fortunate that the businesses here in Rio Grande City, and some of the businesses that do business with the city, are very generous.”