First posted in The Huffington Post on 08/04/2011
It can happen everywhere, even in those cities and towns without a massive Hispanic presence.
But in each of them, as the Latino population grows, the festivals attract the whole community. Those who immigrated recently and those who were born here; and even a sizable amount of non-Latinos come.
The festivals ranging from an event that lasts a few hours for a few thousands of visitors, to a tradition that extends for a full week, engulfs millions and represents a culture that can be traced to events that occurred decades ago.
All of them are an expression of this community, a source of pride, a place to go with the whole family and to enjoy the things it left behind. And it is not only the food, though it may be the most important. There is traditional music, dances, games.
In downtown Columbus, the Festival Latino exists since 2000; this year it is celebrated on August 13-14 in Genoa Park. “Kids activities, music, dance, food, fashion, art, culture, and more!” And it thrives, even though only 4.5% of the 711,000 residents are Latinos.
But then, the National Puerto Rico Parade in New York – formerly known as the Desfile Puertoriqueno, attracts as much as two million spectators who gather to watch the 80,000 participants walking on Fifth Avenue, from 44th Street to 86th Street. This year it was held on June 12th and offered music, food, dance as well as celebrities, local politicians and world class beauties. The event is celebrated since 1958.
Fiesta Broadway in Los Angeles, probably the largest Latino event in the country , celebrates Cinco de Mayo, commemorating Mexico’s victory in the Battle of Puebla over a French army in 1862. Similar festivities are being held in other cities, as San Jose, San Francisco, San Antonio, Sacramento, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Denver and El Paso . Between 500,000 and 1 million people participate, on an area of 24 blocks in downton, along Broadway from Olympic to the area of City Hall. In between stages performing popular music, there is “food, fun and games for the whole family”.
For lovers of conga and Cuban food and culture, the Festival de la Calle Ocho in Little Havana, Miami is a dream come true. Even better, it developed into “a virtual Pan-American showcase” featuring what the organizers call “the world’s largest street party,” with a multitude of musical stages and renowned performers of Caribean music. What started in 1978 is now a gigantic event celebrated every March.
The list goes on and on: Boston celebrates it in early June at the North Common Park; Vermont has it by mid September on Burlington Park, with a week of music and food, and since 1994, and Provo, Utah, celebrates the Latin American Festival since 2004 with the active participation of the Mexican consulate in Salt Lake City. Actually, it seems that every major city in the country is rushing to organize it’s own one: good for the soul, good for commerce, good for the stomach and good for the country…