Text: R.J. Weick
A three-part series
For decades, the Calder Plaza has come alive in August with the music and arts that have played a cornerstone role in many of the Hispanic communities that have called Grand Rapids home. The Hispanic Festival, which grew from the Mexican Festival, or Fiesta Mexicana, celebrates the rich, diverse heritage of Hispanic and Latinx backgrounds during a three-day event featuring food, music, live dance performances, and artisan vendors.
For Adnoris “Bo” Torres, executive director of the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, the event was designed to ensure other cultures and racial ethnic groups, such as Dominican, Puerto Rican, Guatemalan, Central American, and South American populations, felt welcome in the community. Torres noted it is important that the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, which plans and organizes the festival, represents that name and title.
“A brother of mine is from Grand Rapids, so I came to my first festival in about 1997 and to hear traditional music, to hear salsa played in Calder Plaza downtown in a space that hasn’t always been for the Latinx population is amazing,” Torres said. “Last year there was some intersectionality between the African festival that was happening at Rosa Parks Circle and the Hispanic Festival—we had the festivals around the same time—and to see us working together and visiting each other’s festivals…all of that coming together is just a beautiful expression of ethnicity, of culture, of race, and diversity.”
The Hispanic Festival, which is planned in large part by Daniela Rojas Cortes, fund development and communications manager at the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, is meant to capture the essence of the Hispanic spirit.
“It is the representation of our spirit. When you look at the role that music and arts play in our communities, it is making sure that you have dance groups, that you have musical groups who represent different communities, and that you have accessibility in our mercado for the artisanry that is really prevalent in our communities,” Torres said. “It is making sure that you have things that are outward representation and making sure we are visible as a community.”
From traditional Puerto Rican and El Salvadoran dishes like arroz con gandules and pupusa, to different artisan vendors, Torres noted the goal is to bring representation to more than just what one would assume to be at a Latinx festival. The Hispanic Festival, which is also one of the organization’s biggest fundraiser events of the year, grew nearly 15 percent in participation last year and has increased vendor space and plans to include a health section and children’s section. It has also drawn visitors from all over the state and even when tragic events happen in other places—such as in the past—Torres said it is important to connect and celebrate as a community.
“We want to make sure we use those times of joy to represent who we are as a people,” Torres said.
“We want people to participate. We want people to support the Latinx community and to have a great time. At the end of the day, it is a great event for not just the community of Grand Rapids—people travel here from Detroit to have a great weekend—but also from all over state. We want to make sure that continues,” Torres added.
Photography: Jason Grinde | Hispanic Center of Western Michigan