Syracuse Latino Festival celebrates 20 years with food, music and community (photos)

The thumping sounds of brass trumpets, the deep hum of bass guitars, the quick thumps of drums and the beating of tambourines could be heard by anyone attending the Syracuse Latino Festival in Clinton Square on Saturday.

Heading the event with 13 musical acts, including Puerto Rican salsa Grammy-nominated artist Giro Lopez, the Syracuse Latino Festival celebrated a belated 20-year anniversary after a hiatus of several years.

For Fanny Villarreal, executive director of the Syracuse YWCA and a member of the festival committee, organizing this event has had its challenges.

“The hard part of all this is that you need a lot of organization. It’s not easy, but if you organize everything, you can make it happen,” Villarreal said.

Originally created 30 years ago, the first festival served hamburgers behind a local school. The following year, the Spanish Action League moved it to a park for a larger open space. Then, the festival began to gain sponsors so that the budget increased enough to include the performances, vendors and equipment known today.

However, the festival has been on hiatus for several years, mostly due to the amount of planning required for a cultural event of this magnitude. The 20th anniversary of the Syracuse Latino Festival has been postponed for two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. One of the challenges this year was raising enough sponsors and vendors to fund the $20,000 to $30,000 event.

Fortunately, Villarreal said all the behind-the-scenes plans for the festival came together after a year of planning.

Guests like Kiara Pizarro, who came from the West Coast to attend the festival with her family, came not just for the fun, but to celebrate Syracuse’s Hispanic community.

“It was important for us to go out today because a lot of things are happening,” Pizarro said. “We just want to come together, be reunited, be at peace again. It’s not about violence and what’s happening now. We’re trying to show the new generation what it was like back then, that we’re all together and we don’t have to be against each other.

Villarreal said one of the main reasons they organized the Latino Festival was to bring together Syracuse’s Hispanic community.

Villarreal said, “I think unity is very important for all of us. “I think we have to be united to be a strong community. And I think the food, the music, the great company, the culture – all of these help us to be united.”

On either side of a square, Puerto Rican food trucks Callé Tropical and Mamacitas sold empanadas, salt pork and rice dishes, chicken kebabs, plantains, and other cultural delights to attendees. More than 15 booths covered the festival, including sponsors, face painting, and small businesses selling clothes and crystals.

Cultural booths sat in the middle of the square and focused primarily on the six countries featured at this year’s festival: Cuba, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico and Argentina.

Another goal of the festival is to educate people about the different cultures, attitudes and identities in Latin America.

Leonardo Echavarria, owner of Lian Cleaning Services, helped set up the Columbia information booth with his wife and friends. Outside their booth were two posters; An overview of food, music, clothing and everything Columbia has to offer. The other was a poster full of colorful flowers and pictures of Medellin, where the Echavarria is located.

“Our tradition is our flowers,” Echavarria said. “In Medellin, it is the city of flowers. They grew their own flowers and made those things [flower arrangements]they make it colorful, it takes all week in the whole city.”

One of the reasons Echavarria comes to the festival is to connect with Syracuse’s Hispanic community.

“It’s good to see the city grow with the Latino community because everybody needs everybody; We need each other. You need me, I need you, we need the government, and the government needs us, so why don’t we work together?” Echavarria said.

During the event, people came to watch the entertainment and socialized among themselves. Sometimes popular Latin songs from artists like Selena and Marc Anthony would get the crowds up.

Some musical acts, including those from the Unity Street Band, will encourage attendees to get up and walk, such as during the flag parade where they parade around Clinton Square carrying a flag from a Latin American country.

The message of the flag ceremony is to celebrate unity within Syracuse’s Hispanic community.

“We are here, this is our home and Onondaga County has opened its doors for all of us,” Villarreal said.

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