After some concerns, Siler City board clears the way for Hispanic Heritage Fiesta on Sept. 11

Posted 6/30/21

SILER CITY — The Siler City Board of Commissioners greenlit the 8th Hispanic Heritage Fiesta Monday night, despite initial concerns over scarce police presence and the date itself.

The Fiesta is …

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After some concerns, Siler City board clears the way for Hispanic Heritage Fiesta on Sept. 11

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Posted

SILER CITY — The Siler City Board of Commissioners greenlit the 8th Hispanic Heritage Fiesta Monday night, despite initial concerns over scarce police presence and the date itself.

The Fiesta is a free outdoor festival that the Hispanic Liaison, community members and other organizations throw each year to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, which begins on Sept. 15. This year, it will take place on Saturday, Sept. 11 from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. in front of the Liaison’s downtown office.

"We're certainly happy that Fiesta's coming back," the Liaison's executive director, Ilana Dubester, told the News + Record, " ... but we honestly did not anticipate the resistance for a well-known event."

Dubester originally petitioned the town to sign off on the Fiesta during last Monday’s regular meeting of the commissioners. Instead, the board postponed the decision a week to clear up several security concerns commissioners brought up during the meeting — namely whether there’d be sufficient police presence.

“The board asked staff to meet in our lounge, work out all the concerns that were mentioned during the meeting, and we did that,” Town Manager Roy Lynch told the board at this Monday’s meeting. “So at this point in time, staff has signed off on the request for each department concerning the number of police officers, the road closures, the times, and so forth.”

According to Dubester’s proposal, the Liaison expects the Fiesta to attract about 1,000 attendees to downtown Siler City, plus 50 participating nonprofits and businesses. During last Monday’s regular board meeting, Siler City Police Chief Mike Wagner told commissioners he couldn’t guarantee any dedicated police presence at the event.

After meeting with Wagner last week, however, Dubester told the board that Wagner had committed to sending two police officers to the event from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

“I have all the information I need that makes me feel like the event is planned out well and that there’s going to be the proper preparedness put in place,” Wagner told the board Monday.

The board voted 5-2 to close two blocks of E. Second Street and N. Chatham Avenue, respectively, for the Fiesta from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sept. 11. The additional 10 hours will allow sufficient time to set up and clean up.

Only commissioners Chip Price and Curtis Brown voted against the motion.

“I do have a concern about having this on Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center, and of course, as we all know that that was a time when a lot of our first responders — firemen and policemen — perished in that,” Price said Monday. “It’s a time of remembrance for that particular event, and I have a real problem with scheduling something like this on that particular date.”

But after evaluating alternative dates, Dubester told the board that Sept. 11 was the only date they could host the Fiesta. The weekend of Sept. 4 is Labor Day weekend while other Saturdays conflicted with other major county events.

Moving it to Sept. 25 — the Fiesta’s current alternative date if it rains — wouldn’t work either, Dubester added, since they’d need to identify an inclement weather day two weeks later, a Saturday which conflicts with Shakori Hills events.

“If we do the 25th, it gets darker earlier,” she said, and “two weeks later is Shakori Hills, so our inclement weather date would interfere with our festival because of the amount of people that attend Shakori Hills that want to come to our festival as well, including myself. So it’s just not convenient for us to do another day.”

But she agreed with Price that the date wasn’t ideal.

“It’s an unfortunate coincidence,” she added. “I agree that it’s not the happiest day of the year, and we certainly plan to have a moment of silence at our events in honor of all the victims of Sept. 11. … I’m sorry that offends you, but that’s not our intention.”

After a two years’ absence, the Fiesta is set to return on Sept. 11. The Fiesta was supposed to return last year following an anniversary celebration the Liaison held instead in 2019, but COVID-19 forced them to cancel it.

The Hispanic Heritage Fiesta celebrates Latin American culture and seeks to promote community integration, especially in Siler City, which is nearly half Latino. Fiesta-goers usually find a little bit of everything — from a variety of Latin American music, dances and foods to a traditional outfit parade. Dozens of nonprofits and local businesses, including the Hispanic Liaison, also use the opportunity to set up outreach tables.

According to the Liaison’s proposal for the town, this year’s Fiesta will also host an art exhibit at the Arts’ Incubator, kids’ activities and on-site vaccinations to be administered by Better Care, a Greensboro-based provider. The Liaison also requested that the town provide and staff an inflatable bouncy house for children “if possible,” plus offer a fire truck for display in the children’s area.

Several community members attended the meeting to voice support of the Fiesta despite its timing, including Siler City resident Delfino Benitez.

“I know I may not look it, but I’m a veteran — 100 pounds later,” he told the board, with a laugh. He added: “I just wanted to say that 9/11 is a very significant day, but I know that in our own way we will celebrate those lives. We will take a moment of silence, and if nobody else will agree to do it on memorial days, then I'll stand up and do that to celebrate those lives as well.”

Brooke Simmons, co-owner of the Chatham Rabbit coffee shop in downtown Siler City, told the board she thought the Fiesta was important not only for the town’s Hispanic population, but downtown business owners as well.

“As a downtown business owner, this has always been such a bright spot for downtown in celebration of our Hispanic community and the integration of this beautiful culture that we have here,” she said. “I just feel honored that this event happens, and it brings lots of business to downtown.”

Reporter Victoria Johnson can be reached at victoria@chathamnr.com.

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