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

The blares of brass trumpets, the deep hums of bass guitars, the fast beat of drums and the tap of tambourines could be heard in Clinton Square on Saturday by anyone attending the Syracuse Latin Festival.

With 13 musical acts, including Grammy-nominated Puerto Rican salsa artist Giro Lopez headlining the event, the Syracuse Latino Festival celebrated a belated 20th anniversary after a multi-year hiatus.

For Fanny Villarreal, executive director of the Syracuse YWCA and one of the party committee members, organizing this event had its challenges.

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

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

But the festival has been on hold for several years, mostly due to the amount of planning required for a cultural event of this magnitude. The 20th anniversary of the Syracuse Latin Festival was delayed two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This year, one of the challenges included gathering enough sponsors and vendors to fund the event from $20,000 to $30,000.

Fortunately, Villarreal said that after a year of planning, everyone behind the scenes of the festival came together.

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

“It was important for us to come out today because there’s a lot going on,” Pizarro said. “We just want to get together and reunite, be at peace again. It’s not about violence and everything that’s going on now. Trying to show the new generation what it was like back then; that we’re all in this together and we don’t have to be against each other”.

Villarreal said one of the main reasons they hold the Latin Festival is to bring Syracuse’s Hispanic community together.

“I think unity is very important for everyone,” Villarreal said. “For me, to be a strong community we must be united. And I think the food, the music, the great company, the culture, all these things help us come together.”

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

In the middle of the square were cultural booths, focusing mainly on the six countries featured during this year’s festival: Cuba, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico and Argentina.

Another purpose of the festival is to educate people about the different cultures, mannerisms and identities of Latin America.

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

“Our tradition is our flowers,” Echavarria said. “In Medellín, it is the city of flowers. They grow their own flowers and did these things [flower arrangements]they have it colorful, it lasts all week in the whole city.”

One of the reasons Echavarria came out to the festival is to connect with the Hispanic community in Syracuse,

“Seeing the city grow with the Latino community is beautiful because everyone needs everyone; we need each other You need me, I need you, we need the government and the government needs us, so why not work together?” Echavarria said.

Throughout the event, people came to watch the entertainment and socialize with each other. At times, popular Latin hits by artists like Selena and Marc Anthony brought the crowd to its feet.

Some musical acts, including the Unity Street Band, would encourage attendees to get up and march, as during the flag ceremony, where they paraded through 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’re here, these are our homes here, and Onondaga County has opened its doors to all of us,” Villareal said.

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