Young hopefuls flock to the Eastern New Mexico University campus for the chance to represent their high school and bring back a trophy.

Bilingual Education Instructor Geni Flores says that the festival is a competition amongst high school students who are studying a foreign language. She has been involved in the festival since it first started when she was a graduate student.

Initially, the festival held French and Spanish competitions with hopes of expanding to Portuguese but has since become a large Spanish competition.

“When it started out, the whole thing took place in the language lab and a couple of classrooms over in the Jack Williamson Liberal Arts Building (JWLA). Now we have to use the Campus Union Ballroom,” said Flores.

The native speaker competition is so large that it needs to be in the Ballroom, and non-native speaker competition is in the Becky Sharp Auditorium in the College of Business (COB).

As word spread about the festival, people and high schools from the region wanted to come and be involved. The coordinators usually expect about 500-600 students to be a part of the festival. This year’s festival held on Friday, Feb. 17, encompassed 12 high schools as far west to Pecos High School in New Mexico and as far east to Friona, Texas.

In 1984, two Eastern New Mexico University Festival language professors founded Festival Románico. Originally, the Festival was French professor Dr. Margret Willen’s brainchild, and Spanish professor Dr. Candido Tafoya was willing to be a part of the Festival and implement Spanish into the competition.

Willen is now retired and lives in Santa Fe. “Dr. Willen doesn’t come anymore… It would be fun to bring her down and honor her sometime,” said Flores.

Now, associate professor of Spanish Dr. Jose Contreras has been the coordinator since the late 90s. He has been responsible for keeping the festival alive and instituting many changes like the dance for students to celebrate. 

“He has done an amazing job coordinating all the high schools and students’ works. He really deserves all the recognition,” explained Flores.

Students compete in various competitions: poetry recitation, six-minute skits, and arts and crafts.

In the past, the festival categories even included video and essay portions of competition.

The high school students spend a lot of time preparing and putting so much into their performances and projects.

Last Friday, the Campus Union Building filled with bright traditional and cultural outfits, musical instruments and well-known Spanish songs, life-sized piñatas and miniature models of Mayan architecture, poetry with “mic-drops” and loud applause, and plenty of young faces having fun.

ENMU college students judge the competitions. The high school students are judged by their competition categories, and year of attendance (first through third year), and whether or not they are native speakers. The judges tally up the results, and the schools that have the highest scores are placed in first, second, and third overall.

Festival Románico is independent and the only one of its kind in the area. In this region, the festival has become a huge cultural celebration and success that high school students will always remember in years to come.

The legacy of the competition is so great that it leaves impressions on those who helped coordinate the event. Before Flores became full-time faculty at Eastern, she was a teacher in Lovington, New Mexico, bringing her students to the festival.

Laughing about bragging rights, Flores says, “From 1991 to 1999 we consistently took first place.”