Isleta Pueblo elders party at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino

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About 250 elders from the Pueblo of Isleta came out to dine and kick up their heels at the Hard Rock Hotel ballroom last Thursday night for the Pueblo of Isleta Elder Center Holiday Dinner.

This is the first year that the annual dinner has been held at the Hard Rock, said Rita Jojola, director at the Isleta Elder Center.

This year, she said, "The casino is involved as a goal for the casino (CEO) to acknowledge the community with some of the events like this."

"We're starting to do a lot more for the community," said Pamela Gallegos, CEO of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

She said it's important for her to establish ties with the pueblo that have been thrown to the side and to "do for our own," meaning helping tribal elders and children and working with the community.

Gallegos says she wants to get back to "who we're here for ― the tribe."

During her address to the audience, Gallegos said, "We are here because of you — all of you — our tribal elders … It was very important for me to establish that our roots were with Isleta … we want to reestablish who we are …"

According to Jojola, there are 530 elders in the pueblo age 60 and older, but because of the capacity restrictions for the ballroom, only the first 250 elders to sign up for the dinner were able to participate.

The dinner consisted of turkey, ham, stuffing, green chile stew and more, which the hotel provided.

During dinner, Jojola and her staff made the rounds from table to table, greeting and visiting with elders, creating an intimate feeling of community and family.

Music for the dance that followed the dinner was provided by the band Los Alegros from Belen, which was paid for by the Elder Center through monies raised during their annual arts and crafts fair fundraiser.

This year, there were 103 vendors at the arts and crafts fair, making it bigger than last year, said Jojola, which allowed the center to also buy a gift for each elder at the dinner.

The women elders received a broach and a tin of cookies, while the men received a coffee mug and tin of cookies.

Emcee Richard Garcia of Isleta kept the crowd entertained with quality "Indian humor" during dinner, cracking jokes and teasing audience members as well as giving a presentation on the Elder Center and all that they do for the community.

According to Jojola, the Elder Center employs 25 full and part-time employees as well as 40 legacy core members, who are volunteers, usually age 21-35, who spend time with the elders in the community, often helping them with shopping, transportation, cooking and cleaning.

Santa and Mrs. Claus were also on scene, along with their elf and reindeer, courtesy of the Hard Rock, to pose for pictures and help spread a little holiday cheer.

There was also an adult-sized tricycle, which Santa took for a few spins around the dance floor, that was raffled off during the dance.

Elder Josephine Lente, along with her chorus of Center employees, sang several Christmas songs, including "Silent Night," in both English and Tiwa.

And to get the party started, Santa's mischievous elf stole a dance with Isleta elder Edna Jiron. However, it wasn't long before the dance floor was full of couples dancing and cumbiaing like high school kids to Los Alegros' spicy New Mexico sounds.

The party lasted long into the night, wrapping up around 11 p.m.


-- Email the author at udavila@news-bulletin.com.