Interview with David Laidacker-Luna, President, Fiesta Youth
Ely Vance | February 2020
Q. How did you become involved with Fiesta Youth?
I became involved with Fiesta Youth as a volunteer over 4 years ago and have been involved ever since. It was something I knew right away that I wanted to be a part of. Helping youth be safe in their own skin. Something I did not have when I grew up and something that is so needed today. Fiesta Youth provides that safe space for youth to be themselves in a safe environment and learn from each other.
Q. What’s a typical Fiesta Youth event like? Do any from the recent past stick out as being especially memorable?
Every Tuesday evening from 6:30-8:30, youth come in and socialize the first 15 minutes. Then we create a circle for all to introduce themselves, say their pronouns, and answer a question of the day. After that we have our featured program/activity and a snack is provided. At the close of the evening, we circle back up and do “Shout Outs”; this allows the youth to express what they are feeling for the day, anything they want to share, and for other youth to express any help or comments that can lift the other youth up and continue the week in a good space.
Our 6th year anniversary night was amazing last September because we had the Executive Director of David’s Law at our programming event to talk to the youth and families about bullying. The story of David and how he took his life and how his family lobbied to change the laws in Texas and provide resources for youth and families that are bullied in our society. It was impactful and really showed the changes that Texas is making to protect our youth.
Q. I’ve heard you put on an LGBTQ prom. What’s that like?
It’s absolutely incredible! It’s a yearly event that’s going into its 7th anniversary, and it’s the largest LGBTQ prom in south Texas. We had over 200 kids show up last year after only planning for 150, so that really blew us away. It’s really all about the kids: they pick the theme in a group meeting after our youth leadership counsel comes up with finalists to vote on. And it’s so important to have those meetings where they get to make decisions like that, because around half of our regular group comes without their family’s knowledge. It can be a sanctuary. The prom is completely free, has a pizza and candy bar, a DJ, and a dance contest that is extremely popular. The event is for anyone ages 12-18, including allies who want to support their friends, and is chaperoned by volunteers—and I want to stress again that Fiesta Youth is almost completely driven by volunteer support. We only have one paid part-time staffer; the rest of us are doing this on our own time because we really believe in the mission.
Q. How have you seen the community impacted in the last six years? Are there any specific challenges or pleasures working in San Antonio?
San Antonio has benefited from our organization by us just providing that outlet for our youth. But it’s not Just San Antonio. Our organization gets youth from Corpus Christi, Seguin, New Braunfels, and as far as the Valley on some programming nights. We have seen our community open up and allow our youth to be heard. We don’t have any pressures per se. Fundraising is always a challenge since we are an all-volunteer Board of Directors, and it can be challenging to work around our work schedules. The great thing is we all work very hard to keep the organization going and do have some amazing partners, sponsors, and donors that see what we do and continue to support us.
Q. What do you find so meaningful about working with LGBTQ youth in particular?
The most meaningful thing is when we hear how grateful our youth are that we are here. That we provide this safe space for them to come and be themselves. For some youth it’s the only day of the week where they can be themselves because for some their families don’t know yet.
Q. How important is literature to fostering the community Fiesta Youth is trying to achieve? Are there any authors especially beloved by the youth you work with?
Literature is extremely important to our youth! Our youth are so creative in their own thought process. Many of them write themselves as an outlet to release their feelings/concerns. When we have our open mic nights with the youth, it’s their favorite. It allows them to express themselves and show their talent and creative thinking. When we partnered with the city’s teen library system a few years ago, it has been amazing for our youth throughout San Antonio to have LGBTQ books that Fiesta Youth has donated. Youth can go into a teen library throughout our city and take out books that they can relate to in their own lifestyle. They can read about many stories that represent themselves, and we are so proud of that partnership to be able to have that outlet for the youth of our city. There is not one author that the kids gravitate to because there are just so many that they can relate to and know that they have this in their own backyard. It also has helped youth that may not know about Fiesta Youth pick up a LGBTQ book and see our sticker and then reach out to us and come to one of our teen nights. It’s just amazing!
Q. I understand you’re hoping to soon expand the organization into Corpus Christi, which is extremely exciting. Has it been difficult to manage the growth of an organization like this?
We are very excited about this new opportunity we are researching. We hope to have something started by April of this year and continue to move our organization to reach more youth in South Texas. It has not been hard. It’s manageable because of the volunteers and Board of Directors that really work hard to help make things happen. I am extremely grateful for all of them.
Q. How have you personally grown in your time working with Fiesta Youth?
I have grown from just hearing from our youth on how adults can be better. The youth have taught me to be more open, not to be afraid, and share my life with people. My volunteers and Board of Directors have helped me believe it what we are doing each day. I am proud of what Fiesta Youth has done and will do in all South Texas!
Q. How could AWP members continue to support or be involved with Fiesta Youth? How might they go about becoming more involved in their own communities?
We would love your support by donating a book this week you are here. Stop by our booth and drop off a book and say hello. Get additional information on what we do. Buy a Fiesta medal to support our organization or make a monetary donation of sponsor any of our programs. We love our volunteers and if interested in volunteering please send us an email at email@example.com. To get more information on our programming and events visit Fiesta Youth's website. To go about getting something started in your own community, reach out to a partner and find a safe space and just get the word out. The youth will come. Fiesta Youth started with $50 and a small space in a back of a church over 6 years ago. We have grown strong based on the support of our community, and we will continue our journey as long as we are needed.