WATSONVILLE — Hundreds of people flocked downtown late Sunday morning for the second annual Pajaro Valley Pride Festival.
According to organizers, the event has grown considerably in size since last year. Twice as many vendors and a hundred or so more attendees from across Monterey Bay gathered in Watsonville Plaza to celebrate and support Pajaro Valley’s LGBT+ community.
“Honestly, I’m floored at the response,” said City Councilman Jimmy Dutra. “I wouldn’t have imagined this kind of celebration could be embraced in Watsonville, even just a few years ago. It’s incredible.”
Watsonville’s White Hawk Aztec Dancers performed dances and a blessing ritual to kick off the festival. Soon after, members of Pajaro Valley Pride and Grand Marshal Lesley-Reid Harrison led the crowd on a march down East Beach Street, turning onto Union Street and making their way around the Fox Theater before marching onto a blocked-off section of Main Street.
Parade goers held up signs calling for equal rights and treatment of the LGBT+ community and many groups began chanting different lines, including this year’s official slogan: “We March Together, We Stand Together!”
Harrison, who spoke on the main stage later in the day, expressed her admiration to Pajaro Valley’s LGBT+ community and its allies.
“I am honored to be chosen as grand marshal, but honesty, everyone here is a grand marshal today,” she said. “Each person who is showing up to support and march with us should be acknowledged.”
Throughout the day, various performers and speakers took to the stage. Booths manned by organizations, agencies and food vendors lined Main Street. A Kids Zone with games and a jump house were set up as well.
Aisha Charves, volunteer coordinator of the Diversity Center of Santa Cruz, explained why she thought this event was important for the Pajaro Valley.
“There is a lot going on in this county as a whole,” she said. “But there is definitely a need for more Watsonville-focused projects. We are so glad this event is gaining more support.”
Many local festival goers expressed similar feelings, saying how much they loved their community but also acknowledging how views toward its LGBT+ citizens could improve.
One young man, who asked not to be named, said he was currently closeted from most of his family and friends, but that events like this made him feel not so alone.
“Being able to celebrate who you are instead of being ashamed by it — it’s so refreshing,” he said. “I’m really glad Watsonville is taking a step forward like this.”