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

The blaring sounds of brass trumpets, deep hums of bass guitars, quick beat of drums and tap of tambourines could be heard throughout Clinton Square Saturday by anyone who attended Syracuse’s Latino Festival.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It was important for us to come outside today because a lot of things are going on,” said Pizarro. “We just want to get together and be reunited, be at peace again. It’s not about violence and all that is going on now. Trying to show the new generation how it was back then; that we’re all together and that we don’t have to be against each other.”

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

“I think unity is very important to all of us,” said Villarreal. “To me, in order to be a strong community we have to be united. And I think food, music, great company, culture – all those things help us to get united.”

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

Cultural booths sat in the middle of the square, primarily focusing on the six countries being highlighted during this year’s festival: Cuba, Columbia, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico and Argentina.

Another one of the festival’s purposes is to educate people on the different cultures, mannerisms and identities within Latin America.

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

“Our tradition is our flowers,” said Echavarria. “In Medellin, it’s the city of the flower. They grow their own flowers and they make those 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 Syracuse’s Hispanic community.

“Seeing the city grow with the Latin community, it’s nice 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 not work together?” said Echavarria.

Throughout the event, people came to watch the entertainment and would socialize among themselves. At times, popular Latin hits from artists like Selena and Marc Anthony, would get the crowd on their feet.

Some musical acts, including those from the Unity Street Band, would encourage attendees to get up and march, such as during the flag ceremony, where they paraded 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 here and Onondaga County has opened their doors for all of us,” said Villarreal.

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