Tradition keeps Fiesta food cooking

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- Every day this week, the kitchen at Fiesta Mexicana will make 2,000 burritos, 2,000 enchiladas, 1,000 tamales and a number of tacos too great to count.

"Today we made chicken taquitos, queso, enchiladas, tacos, ranchero beans and sopa," said Fiesta food chair Jackie Rangel.

It's the traditional cuisine that brings many to Fiesta, but it's also tradition that keeps the food coming.

"I have a picture in my mom and dad's house that has my grandma and another lady in the kitchen. It inspires me to keep my tradition going," said Michelle Valdivia.

Valdivia's been filling orders in the kitchen since she was in middle school, now she's giving them.

"When I'm in charge on Friday, I don't get to enjoy the people as much because I'm telling people what to do and where to go. On these other days, you get to talk and catch up and see everybody," explained Valdivia, Fiesta Mexicana food captain.

The recipes have been here longer than any of the cooks, and for some, their roots go back further than fiesta.

"My children's great grandfather helped found the church, so we wanted to help keep it alive," said Rangel.

For Jackie Rangel, working the kitchen is less about keeping the masses full and more about keeping mass full.

"It keeps the school alive, it keeps the parish alive. Everyone knows Fiesta is our biggest event to make that happen, so without Fiesta, it probably wouldn't happen," said Rangel.

It's a celebration 84 years in the making, and if tradition stays alive, there will be 84 more at least.

"I bring all my little nieces and nephews in. I tell them they have to come because it's their future and they need to get used to it so they'll know exactly what to do when they take over," said Valdivia.

One tradition was left off the menu this year. The Jalapeno eating contest was not included for liability reasons.