LAUP ¡Fiesta! makes strong comeback

After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a beloved Holland tradition returned over the weekend. Thousands from across the state gathered for ¡Fiesta!, an annual celebration of Latino heritage and cultures sponsored by Latin Americans United for Progress (LAUP).

Not only was this the first ¡Fiesta! since 2019, but the gathering also marked the return of the event to the Holland Civic Center, where the event had been held from 1964 until 2016.

From 2017 to 2019, ¡Fiesta! was located in the parking lot of The Shops at Westshore (formerly the Westshore Mall) because the Civic Center was undergoing renovation. The LAUP hosted a similar event called “Together Again” at Kollen Park in 2021, shortly after the state restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic were lifted.

Return to July date, Civic Center welcomed

Dahlia Zapata and her husband, Saul Zapata, took to the dance floor as the band Bacha Popi performed on the Holland Civic Center stage Saturday afternoon. The Holland couple had missed the Latinx celebration when it relocated to The Shops at Westshore and during the COVID break.

“I like it here at the Civic Center and in July,” Dahlia Zapata says. “It’s in the middle of everything, so it makes it easier for everyone to attend. I’ve seen so many friends I haven’t seen in a while. It’s been great to catch up with them.”

A 20-year employee at Gentex, a sponsor of the event, Zapata handed out fliers to coworkers and others letting them know ¡Fiesta! was back as a summer event.

“I was telling everyone, and they were so excited to attend,” she says. "It's great to see the crowds. ¡Fiesta! is so awesome this year."
Visitors attending the LAUP ¡Fiesta! walk along the Mercado vendor tables in the Holland Civic Center on July 9.
Day filled with activity

This year’s ¡Fiesta! began with LAUP Executive Director Johnny Rodriguez and members of the organization’s Board of Directors welcoming everyone to the renovated Civic Center. Continuing the tradition of his predecessors, Holland Mayor Nathan Bocks read a proclamation on behalf of the city of Holland.

Throughout the day, visitors walked around the Civic Center visiting the numerous Mercado vendors. Local businesses, non-profits, resources, artisans, recruiting and children’s activities were inside, and ethnic food booths and a car show were outside.
Visitors walk among the automobiles on display while attending the car show of the LAUP ¡Fiesta! in Holland July 9.
Students from area schools took part in a talent show that offered scholarships from the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland area and the LAUP. Latino musical acts included Gabriel Estrada, Bacha Popi, Son de Mexico, Ballet Folklórico Sol Azteca, and Flow Like Water, and Salserines offered salsa dance lessons. The event closed with a sold-out “baile” (dance) headlined by DJ Two 3 and Karizma Band.
Guests dance to the music of Karizma Band while attending the Baile of the LAUP ¡Fiesta! at the Holland Civic Center July 9.“It was a tremendous success,” Rodriguez says. “I want to thank everyone, especially the ¡Fiesta! committee, entertainers and the community, who helped plan, promote, and volunteered. It took a whole team to put on this event, and it couldn’t be done without their part.”

Volunteers made it all possible

One of the many volunteers was Emma Garcia, who helped out as a greeter. She works part time at MillerKnoll while attending Grand Rapids Community College, where she studies nursing. MillerKnoll, one of the event’s sponsors, invited employees to volunteer.

For Garcia, that was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up. She had grown up attending ¡Fiesta!, and during high school she was involved in LAUP’s youth program, which introduced her to educational and career opportunities.

She’s glad to see ¡Fiesta! back at the Holland Civic Center, and she likes having the event in July instead of early May when it was timed to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

That schedule meant the festival shared a weekend with the community’s signature Tulip Time Festival.

“I like it in July,” Garcia says. “July is my favorite month because the weather is so nice. A lot of people are out here enjoying the nice weather and walking around. This year’s ¡Fiesta! is a great event. I love the way it's organized, and I really enjoy being able to help out now that I'm older.

“Seeing the excitement in the little kids' faces reminds me of how I felt when I attended ¡Fiesta! as a child. Getting to be a part of it now makes it an even better experience.”

Rodriguez says that it was challenging with no ¡Fiesta! for the past two years, as was the return to a venue that had housed the annual event for decades.

LAUP plans on being back in the Holland Civic Center for the next ¡Fiesta! but a date has not been determined.

“It will be bigger and better,” adds Rodriguez.

Shandra Martinez contributed to this report.