As Ralph Varela sat in his office at the Pinal Hispanic Council he reflected on the 34 years he’s worked in Pinal County and how most of the three decades have been spent in Eloy.
“There are three places that I’ve always loved,” he said. “One is El Paso because I was born and raised in El Paso until I came to Arizona, then Casa Grande because I’ve lived there since I came to Arizona. I raised a family there, we all just grew up there and I was on city council there. The third is Eloy because I’ve spent, really all of my working time here.”
Varela has played a role in getting the Eloy Governor’s Alliance Against Drugs establish and has worked with the Corazon de Latinos Unidos committee and many other things that have happened since the Pinal Hispanic Council came to Eloy.
On Saturday, Varela will be able to add ‘serve as grand marshal in the Fiestas Patrias parade’ to his long list of accomplishments in the Eloy community.
“I’m just really thankful because it does mean a lot,” he said. “When you have your roots here and you’re a servant to your community, and just to be able to be recognized. It has meant a lot and it just affirms all the good work that everyone has done here.”
Varela was born in El Paso, Texas and grew up during the Chicano Movement in the 1960s and according to him a lot of the movement was about helping, being involved and doing things.
He is the youngest of four and experienced the hardships his mom faced when she had to take care of him and his three siblings after his dad died at an early age.
A childhood memory that stand out for Varela is when he was in the sixth grade and his family was selected by his school to receive gifts and a food box.
“I remember it like it was yesterday, my mom opened the door and she said ‘Que es esto?’, she was totally surprised about it,” he said. “She was always so self reliant, she didn’t seek out help. I think that had an impact too because when you’re in the sixth grade and someone chooses to help you out.”
Varela eventually found his way into social work where he became involved in so many different projects and organizations.
“I think it’s all three of those,” Varela said. “My roots, seeing what my mom went through trying take care of all four of us and then the social work background. I think that was a perfect storm. Giving back and being involved is just the right thing to do.”
Varela has been involved with the Fiestas Patrias since 1995 which is around the time the event became alcohol free.
“We received a grant and we could only use those grants if the event was alcohol free,” he said. “Our involvement also couldn’t be unless it was alcohol free. My primary role is to help raise money for the event.”
Varela has always enjoyed the event and loves how it has become more family oriented over the years and now includes a lot of activities for the kids.
“This is really the big event for Eloy,” he said. “Everyone who comes enjoys it and the elderly come out and sit for a couple of days, even though it’s hot because they like the entertainment and the culture. There’s a pride of having families get together and just seeing the whole community enjoying the richness of their history and their roots. It’s just pretty awesome.”
He added that he also enjoys coming out to the Fiestas Patrias in the evening and just watching the people enjoy themselves.
“I think the presentation of the two flags, the American flag and the Mexican flag are real important and then at the of the day the Grito that kind of just brings everything together about what this whole event is about,” Varela said.
The Fiestas Patrias in Eloy are almost an identical representation of the the Independence Day celebrations that happen in Mexico, from the music and food to El Grito.
“I think for residents it probably reminds them, if they grew up in Mexico, of when they were young and how important it was to take your family to the center of the park and just enjoy the event,” Valera said.