The “Fiesta” festival in Santa Barbara is kicking off its 87th annual Old Spanish Days celebration today in downtown Santa Barbara to commemorate the community’s cultural heritage.

The festival runs from August 3 to 7 and features street parades, traditional Spanish and Mexican food vendors, tours and dances. This year’s event also marks the Santa Barbara Mission’s 225th anniversary and highlights the historic landmark’s important role in the region.

According to 2011 La Presidenta Joanne Funari, this year’s theme of “Celebrate Santa Barbara” aims to unite the community in honor of its tenacious citizens.

“It is a celebration of life, history, community and cultural diversity — a celebration of Santa Barbara,” Funari said in an online statement. “My theme, ‘Celebrate Santa Barbara,’ is inspired by the resilience, camaraderie and strength of our community.”

This event schedule includes Thursday’s Professional Bull Riders Challenger Tour, Friday’s Fiesta Stock Horse Show and Rodeo and Sunday’s West Coast Symphony 45th Annual Free Fiesta Concert.

Gaucho Alumni Public Information Officer Kathryn McKee said about 100,000 people are expected to attend this year’s gala.

“Attendance is back up this year — that’s good news,” McKee said. “It’s a win-win for everybody. Tourism is a very important component to the economy.”

Additionally, the Mercado Mexican market, located in the De La Guerra Plaza, attracts families and business for the non-profit organizations running food booths. McKee said local restaurants sell food to the organizations who then vendor the fare as part of their fundraiser.

“For some of those nonprofits who come back year after year, it’s very profitable,” McKee said. “Many of them make their operation expenses for the entire year at Fiesta.”

However, Geoffrey Bell, fourth-year political science major and Paseo Nuevo Mall security officer, said the festivities pose security risks for neighboring stores.

“Last year — and this should come as a surprise to no one — I encountered so many drunken people,” Bell said. “I saw as many drunken people harassing others and causing problems during Fiesta than I have in more than, or as much as, a few months’ span as a part-time security officer in the mall.”

The week of Fiesta also features a wide spectrum of entertainment, including mariachi, symphony and dance performances and tours of the historic courthouse and
Santa Barbara Mission.

“There’s tremendous entertainment all day long,” McKee said. “It gives the community a sense of something very special. It’s a chance to have fun, a chance to think or reflect on the fact that this is an old city by American standards. It’s a chance to show off a beautiful city.”