Edison Neighborhood

Despierta awakens Hispanic American Festival and now moves to larger venue

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Edison series.

As a child, Edison resident Sandra Calderon, remembers attending the Hispanic Heritage Festival in Kalamazoo every year.

She recalls it as a time of joyful cultural celebration through the food, the music, the bright colors and clothing, and the Spanish language of her birth home, El Salvador.

Over the years, however, the organizational and financial capacity to support the annual September event diminished, and for eight years, the festival slept in the memories of those who had attended.

“We missed the festival,” says Calderon. “And we realized if we don’t do something about it, our children weren’t going to have those memories either.”

Three years ago, formed through a committee of Kalamazoo Latinx residents and with the support of the Kalamazoo Deacons Conference, Despierta (translated as awake) Kalamazoo, was re-born with a new energy, name, and focus. 

In light of the recent hostile political policies towards immigrants, events that celebrate Latinx culture have taken on even more importance, says Calderon. This is especially true for many residents of Edison, a neighborhood that boasts the highest Latinx population in Kalamazoo and is home to El Concilio (formerly Hispanic American Council of Kalamazoo), St. Joseph Catholic Church, which offers masses in Spanish, and a number of Mexican businesses, including the bakery La Azteca,  Mexican grocery El Ranchero, the restaurant Los Brothers, and others.

Calderon, who is charge of public relations for Despierta, sees this as a particularly important time to celebrate Latinx heritage. “Although we’re fun and hip and we all want to enjoy this celebration, we also want to be careful in this current climate,” says Calderon. “We try to stay away from the political aspect of it, but it’s really hard to differentiate. 

“Our purpose is not to shove political things down people’s throats, “ says Calderon. “We’ve got this great music, this great food. We want to celebrate that. Part of what we’re doing is we’re trying to educate the community on the Hispanic culture, food music, dance. We want to be inclusive.”

Calderon says she was concerned last year that people would be less likely to come to the fiesta, but while there may have been a few less people in attendance, she says that hundreds of people were coming and going all day long. “We’re hoping that being in a separate area this year will draw people,” she says. “And we’re more powerful in numbers. This year the event is closer to the Edison neighborhood. Word will spread.”

The 2018 Hispanic Heritage Fiesta takes place on the Sept. 15  in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month and will feature music, vendors, games, dancing, and food. In years past, the fiesta has taken place at Bronson Park, but this year will be from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Growler’s Field at the Mayor’s Riverfront Park. Admission is free and open to the public.

To help fund the festival, Despierta is hosting a Kalamazoo Growlers Fundraising Night on July 1. Performances by Spanish immersion students from El Sol Elementary School and Kalamazoo Christian Schools will be featured. The gates open at 2:05 p.m. with the first pitch thrown at 3:05 p.m.

Last year, in addition to the festival, Despierta initiated the Guadalupe DeAnda Campos Memorial Scholarship to honor Campos, founder of the Hispanic American Council of Kalamazoo. The fund is designed to assist college students of Hispanic heritage with money to help purchase books and supplies. Applications are currently available through Despierta Kalamazoo.
“We want to make this year’s fiesta the most exciting yet,” says Calderon. “Who doesn’t love to go to the ballpark? That’s just joy in itself.  And you can bring your family, celebrate your culture, and have a voice at the same time.”

Tickets for the Growlers’ fundraiser can be purchased at Growlerstickets.com with promo code FIESTA. Cost is $22 for a reserved bleacher seat and 90-minute pregame, all-inclusive ballpark buffet with beer, soda, and water; $17 for the same without beer; or $10 for a reserved bleacher seat and Growler’s hat.

Theresa Coty O'Neil is a Kalamazoo area freelance writer. Her articles have appeared in many local publications and her short stories have been published in Alaska Quarterly Review and West Branch, among others. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Edison.

Southwest Michigan Second Wave’s “On the Ground Edison” series amplifies the voices of Edison Neighborhood residents. Over three months, Second Wave journalists will be embedded in the Edison Neighborhood to explore topics of importance to residents, business owners, and other members of the community. To reach the editor of this series, Theresa Coty-O’Neil, please email her here or contact Second Wave managing editor Kathy Jennings here
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