From a parade of flags to a daylong concert of bands, the Grand Haven Hispanic Heritage Fiesta showcased the diversity of Spanish-speaking cultures.
“Fiesta was created to highlight our Latino community living along the Lakeshore that makes this a great place to live,” says Reyna Masko, who co-founded the first Fiesta in 2019.
Masko shares some of her favorite moments of this year’s weeklong celebration, held Sept. 19-25 and organized by the Tri-Cities Puentes Initiative.
The fiesta kicked off Sept. 19 with a flag parade from Lynne Sherwood Waterfront Stadium to Grand Haven Central Park. Students from the Adelante program at Latin Americans United for Progress (LAUP) organized the event. Community members joined in the parade wearing traditional clothing reflecting their Hispanic heritage.
“We played music coming down Washington Avenue and, once we got to the park, we played the national anthem of each one of the Latin American countries as the flags were entering the park. Then, we placed them around the fountain,” says Masko. “This year, the flags stayed there the entire week, and it was so awesome to drive by and see them flying.”
After the parade of flags, Central Park was the location of a full day of live music, dancing, food vendors, family activities, and a COVID-19 vaccination tent. Bands taking part included Evolucion Latina Grand Rapids, Son de Mexico, Karizma Band, Grupo Super Nova, and Grupo Latin Soul.
Food also took center stage during the celebration. Restaurant Week was held during the Fiesta, with local eateries featured dishes from Latin American or Hispanic countries. Grand Rapids restaurant MeXo partnered with the Fiesta for an Origenes (Origins) dinner. The menu for the fundraising dinner was the work of MeXo Chef Oscar Moreno, a Holland resident.
“He only uses ingredients that were used by Mexicans before the Spanish colonization,” Masko says. “Everything is made from scratch, fresh and authentic. He really elevates Mexican cuisine to the next level.”
Those who attended were treated to performances by mariachi music and Folklorico dancers.
A Latino-centered concert featuring Revolución de Amor, a tribute band to famed Mexican rock band, Maná, was held at Grand Haven’s Waterfront Stadium. “We specifically invited our Latino community to come out and celebrate,” says Masko, noting the venue was at capacity. “It was a beautiful setting.”
From the success of the first Fiesta in 2019 came the Tri-Cities Puentes Initiative. The mission of the nonprofit is to build bridges between the Latino community and others in the Tri-Cities. The goal of the celebration is to educate the community about Hispanic heritage. Fiesta takes place during Hispanic Heritage Month, which is observed from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 and celebrates the culture, history, and contributions of Hispanic Americans.
“Another reason why we are doing Hispanic heritage is a lot of the festivals tend to default to the Mexican culture because there is such a big Mexican population,” says Masko. “We want to be very intentional about educating people about the diversity of Latin America. During Hispanic Heritage Month, we want to celebrate all Latin American countries.”
“We felt like we did that during the Fiesta,” says Masko, who was born in El Salvador, has lived in Grand Haven for 23 years.
A component of the Tri-Cities Puentes Initiative is to build Latino leaders. High school students in LAUP’s Adelante program were charged with organizing the flag ceremony. They also organized the children’s activities on the celebration’s kick-off day.
“By putting the students in complete charge of specific aspects of the Fiesta, we felt we were fulfilling our mission of leadership development,” Masko says.
Diversity and unity of the organizers.
“The Grand Haven Hispanic Heritage Fiesta committee couldn't be done without our white brothers and sisters coming alongside us in making it possible,” says Masko. “Everyone on our committee is so passionate about this work in diversity and making this happen. It’s so needed in our community.”
Beyond the celebration.
The nonprofit Tri-Cities Puentes Initiative, created after the first Fiesta, has three goals: celebrate Hispanic culture, build bridges within the Hispanic community and with the larger community by building cultural awareness, and raising leaders. “It was so successful that we felt that we needed to do something else. We formed this nonprofit because we wanted to do more than just celebrate Hispanic culture,” Masko says.
One of the ways the Tri-Cities Puentes Initiative is supporting Latinx leaders is by partnering with Ferris State University on the LEADeres program, which will launch its first Lakeshore cohort this month
. The program is made possible with a $40,000 grant
from the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation.
“I went through the program myself in 2018, so I know how amazing it is,” says Masko.
In the past three years, half of the proceeds from Fiesta have been donated to organizations that make a positive difference in the lives of West Michigan’s Hispanic residents. The first year, funds were donated to the Allegan, Ottawa, Barry Migrant Resource Council. In 2020, funds were given to Lighthouse Immigrant Advocates. This year, they are being given to the Immigrant Relief Fund, which was formed during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide financial assistance to immigrants left out of the $2 trillion CARES Act. The fund, operated locally out of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, provides those eligible with assistance.
The city of Grand Haven, its Human Relations Commission, and Ottawa County were among the first supporters of the Fiesta, says Masko, who previously chaired the Ottawa County’s Cultural Intelligence Initiative. Early supporters also included St. John's Episcopal Church and the Rev. Jared Cramer, who co-founded Fiesta and Tri-Cities Puentes Initiative with Masko.
If you want to join the team that puts on the Fiesta, visit www.tcpuentes.org/
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