WESLACO — As residents continue to mourn the loss of one of their own, Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez of the U.S. Navy, organizers of the upcoming Independence Day celebration are finding ways to celebrate America while also remaining conscious of the city’s solemn tone.
“I think it’s going to be a humbling experience to put a face, a name and a very recent tragedy to our ability to sit at the park and hear music, watch fireworks and celebrate our independence in a free and safe environment,” said Executive Director Marie McDermott of the Weslaco Economic Development Corporation, which is organizing the 4th of July Fireworks Festival in town.
The event is scheduled from 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday, July 4, at Mayor Pablo G. Peña City Park, located at 300 N. Airport Drive in Weslaco.
While the festivities planned will be celebratory in nature, McDermott’s remarks juxtapose the community’s grief over losing Hernandez — a 26-year-old sailor who was one of seven killed aboard the USS Fitzgerald in Japan on Saturday — with the liberties that the Weslaco High School graduate of 2009 dedicated his life to protect.
In recognition of this, as well as in honor of Hernandez’s service in the U.S. armed forces, EDC Director Steven Valdez said a moment of silence will be observed at the event.
Tasked with organizing the festivities is a committee comprised of individual chairs who are heading different aspects of the preparations. For instance, each member has volunteered to oversee specific tasks, such as organizing parking accommodations, recruiting vendors, booking entertainment and marketing the event.
Among the committee chairs is Valley Metro Director Tom Logan, who is also one of the festival sponsors thanks to his contribution of buses that will transport attendees to the festival.
According to Valdez, such assistance is a welcomed solution to a limited parking situation at the venue, where the fireworks will be ignited from soccer fields that would have otherwise been used for accommodating visitors.
The plan now is to encourage attendees who can’t find parking at the event to drive to Weslaco City Hall, located at 255 S. Kansas Ave., where Valley Metro buses will be shuttling people to the event every five to seven minutes.
“For safety purposes, the company shooting the fireworks requires a 300-foot radius from the protected area,” Valdez said. “So we’ll be using the soccer fields for this, and it’ll be taking a huge amount of space normally used for parking. That’s why we’re using these satellite spaces so people can park at the City Hall parking lot, or even in the surrounding area, and have themselves bused in and can come and go in a lot safer fashion.”
Other sponsors include AEP Texas and State Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco. Weslaco ISD has also agreed to open the neighboring Airport Elementary School parking lot to attendees.
This, Valdez added, will help accommodate an estimated turnout of 10,000 people. An unofficial count suggests that about 8,000 people attended last year’s festival.
The entertainment lineup consists of The Hot Rodz opening at 5 p.m., comedian Joshua Cabaza hitting the stage at 6:20 p.m. and the Westside Band following at 6:30 p.m. It’ll be comedian Raul Sanchez’s turn at 7:30 p.m. before Steve and his Barroom Buddies headline the 8 p.m. timeslot.
The fireworks display is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. and will run 20 minutes before culminating in a finale that Valdez promises to be dazzling.
A hotdog eating contest, rides and games for children as well as a kid costume parade and pet costume contest, in addition to the food and arts and crafts vendors that will be on-hand, are all planned throughout the course of the day.
For more information on the festival, call the EDC at (956) 969-0838.