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'It’s a Texas tradition': Food, sights & sounds of the 2021 State Fair of Texas

 A family stops at the Midway, in front of top attractions like Lovebug and the swing carousel, to look at the fair map.
Keren Carrión
A family checks out their fair map while standing on the Midway, where people can find top attractions like Lovebug, the swing carousel and more. The state fair grounds cover nearly 277 acres.

Visitors have been very excited to return to the State Fair of Texas. The event wraps up this weekend.

KERA spent a day at the fair talking with people from across the state about their their favorite fair foods, activities and memories. For many, the event is a longstanding tradition. Others were meeting Big Tex for the first time.

'It's kind of like a rite of passage'

For Alex Sanchez, attending the State Fair of Texas meant providing his family with an experience he longed for as a kid.

“Growing up we were a low income family," Sanchez said. "I have the opportunity to provide a little bit more.”

The Sanchez family of five have been attending the state fair for the past four years.

“It’s a Texas tradition, you know, it's kind of like a rite of passage,” he said.

As his kids grow older Sanchez can see their interest change from carnival rides to food. On their list to try this year weredoubled-stuffed fried Oreos, funnel cake and corny dogs.

“They're thankful for us being able to give them that opportunity to come out here." Sanchez said. "It's a privilege and I know for sure they don't take it for granted.”

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Keren Carrión / KERA News
A family rides the Crazy Mouse, one of more than 70 rides available to fairgoers at the Texas State Fair.

When the state fair was canceled last year due to the pandemic, University of North Texas student Rebecca Martinez put her baking skills to the test and attempted to make her state fair favorite: doubled-stuffed fried Oreos.

“I feel like you can't go wrong with fried Oreos. Those are my go-to. I made them at home and they were pretty good, but you always gotta eat them here,” said Martinez, who was excited to share the experience with her boyfriend, a first-time fair goer.

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Keren Carrión / KERA News
A boy plays a carnival game called “Fried Frogs.”

Erique Jaloma was carrying his two-year-old Mila around the fairgrounds. He said they rode the ladybug carnival kid-ride earlier that day.

“We’ve already tried some rides and introduced her to some new food," Jaloma said, adding he hopes to bring Mila back every year.

'I definitely missed it a lot last year'

For siblings Victoria and Ruben Villalobos from Arlington, the fair was about carnival games and corny dogs.

“It’s been so great, I’ve been so excited,” Victoria said. “I’m pretty sure I’m gonna come again a bunch of times with my friends. I definitely missed it a lot last year.”

A girl smiles before hitting a scale at Flip-A-Chick, a carnival game at the Texas State Fair, while her brother watches her in anticipation, at the Texas State Fair.
Keren Carrión / KERA News
Victoria Villalobos, 18, gets ready to play Flip-A-Chick.

Her family played a water gun game a few times to win a squishmallow for her. That was at the top of Victoria's fair to-do list. Ruben, hadn’t had a ton of luck yet.

“I’ve wasted like $150 here today, and I’ve won nothing, man,” Ruben said. “I’m telling you, I’m the worst. If you saw me play a game, you would think I lost my motor skills.”

He said he fell a few times on a game where people had to climb a rotating rope ladder, and on the last rung at that. He also tried to get a high enough score in ski ball to win a prize, but said he “choked each time.”

“I’ve just been wanting to win this big Sonic [the Hedgehog] plushie,” Ruben said. “At this point, I don’t even care if it’s big. It’s just a personal goal. I don’t even know if I like the character. It just drives me.”

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Keren Carrión / KERA News
Lauren Maroul, 16, pets her show pig, Spade, before a competition at the fair.

Aliyah Pedrosa had made a special trip to Dallas from Keller with her boyfriend just to visit the fair.

“I don’t usually go out to fairs like this, because crowds make me nervous,” Pedrosa said. “My first time going was about three or four years ago, so for me it feels like a brand-new experience and I love it.”

The highlight for her was the petting zoo, where everything from farm animals to zebras were housed in a large indoor tent.

“It was a really weird assortment, but it was really fun,” Pedrosa said. “We bought some feed just for the little goats and we gave it all away to them.”

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Keren Carrión / KERA News
As the fairgrounds come to a close for the evening, a family watches the ‘Illumnation Sensation’ light show at the reflection pool.

Dedron Jordan has been coming to the State Fair of Texas his whole life, ever since he was a toddler. Now, he’s getting to experience the fair with the rest of his family, including the younger members.

“It’s a whole generational change for me,” Jordan said. “I was coming when I was back at their age, and so now, at 42, it’s their turn to enjoy.”

Jordan said he enjoyed watching the kids ride the log flume and seeing animals like horses and pigs up close.

He’s from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, but was getting ready for a move to Arkansas that weekend. He’d been at the fair almost five hours, making the most of his last visit for a while.

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Keren Carrión
A smaller version of Big Tex, as well as portions of Midway, the arcade games, livestock, and even a race car track can be seen from the top of the ferris wheel.

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