What began as a project to provide college scholarships to Hispanic high school students in Alabama has become one of the city’s significant festivals. Now in its seventh year, Fiesta includes a daylong lineup of live music; dance performances; children’s art activities; health and education services, including a job fair and a “Cultural Village” where educators and volunteers will represent more than a dozen Latin American countries. Fiesta 2009 takes place this Saturday, Oct. 17, in Linn Park from noon to 7:30 p.m.
The festival was created by the Hispanic Business Council (HBC) of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce. Back in 2001, HBC members were looking for a way to raise scholarship money for Hispanic students attending Alabama colleges and universities and decided to host a community concert. When the idea evolved into a full-scale festival, HBC members decided to form a non-profit organization whose sole mission was to organize and manage a yearly festival to celebrate and educate the public on the diverse cultures within the Hispanic community in Alabama.
“That first year, we were expecting attendance of about 1,000,” remembers Teresa Zuńiga Odom, former president of the Fiesta board. “But word spread fast – we wound up with about 7,000 people.”
Based on food sales and the amount of donation money raised at the 2008 Fiesta, organizers estimate that about 20,000 people attended last year’s event. Fiesta organizers expect a similar turnout on Saturday.
Ricardo Cordova will act as host of the Coca-Cola/McDonald’s Main Stage. Musical acts scheduled to perform include Grupo Vallenato, the Atlanta Latin Sound and Colombian DJ Ivan Correa. Headliners Las Tres Divas will close out the festival with a 6 p.m. performance.
The Multicultural Food Village is surely the most popular part of Fiesta.
New to the festival this year is the ESOL Village — an on-site hub for educators who specialize in English for speakers of other languages. The outreach area at Fiesta will bring together numerous ESOL providers, allowing them to showcase their services to thousands of potential learners and the community at large.
For the seventh year in a row, Alabama Power and the Birmingham Museum of Art (BMA) will partner to present the Arts Village. Located right outside the front doors of the BMA, the arts village will host make-and-take art activities for children, in which the kids create mini-masterpieces based on works by Hispanic artists. Between playing carnival games, making balloon sculptures and having their faces painted, children can meet and make friends with Bart the Art Bat, the museum’s family mascot. During the festival, families are invited to tour the museum’s permanent collection of Pre-Colombian art.
The Cultural Village will include information booths for nearly 20 Latin American countries. Local volunteers from represented countries will be manning booths with interactive cultural exhibits.
“The Cultural Village is really what it’s all about,” Odom says. “What you see and the people you talk to there — it’s like taking a walk through Latin America. We may all speak Spanish, but that doesn’t mean all our cultures are the same.”
In 2007, Fiesta organizers added a stage in the Cultural Village in part because in previous years, spontaneous performances happened throughout that section of the park. This year, there are a few scheduled performances in the Cultural Village but the stage will also serve as an open mic area.
Storytelling Village, has become an integral part of Fiesta since it was inaugurated in 2007. Located outside the Linn Henley Library, this village is collaboration between the Jefferson County Library Cooperative and the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature at UAB.
As in years past, the Alabama Youth Soccer Futbol Village will offer 3-on-3 tournament play for three age groups: age 8 and under, ages 8-12 and ages 12-14. Each game lasts 20 minutes and all players are eligible for trophies and prizes.
By 2008, the Health & Wellness Village had grown to become one of the most important parts of Fiesta. Focusing on “The Vitality of Our People” as a theme, the village gives Hispanic and non-Hispanic guests a chance to learn more about the medical options and resources available to them in Birmingham and surrounding areas. The Jefferson County Health Department’s mobile dental screening unit will be on site, along with representatives from 12 non-profit medical organizations.
The City of Birmingham Community Village will showcase local non-profit organizations that work with the Hispanic community; this area also includes a job fair.
By the end of this year, festival organizers hope to award as much as $20,000 in scholarships to Hispanic students attending Alabama colleges and universities.
“If you attend and see the diversity in the audience that attends, that’s what we want to achieve,” Odom says. “Fiesta does not have a political agenda. It’s about building community.
“Fiesta showcases what Birmingham can provide to its people in terms of multiculturalism, sensitivity and acceptance,” Odom says. “We’re extremely proud of that.”
The seventh annual Fiesta Hispanic Culture and Heritage Festival will be held in Linn Park on Saturday, Oct. 17, from noon to 8 p.m. Admission is free but donations to the Fiesta scholarship fund are encouraged at the gate. For more information, call (205) 324-6881 x103 or visit www.fiestahbc.com