Third time’s the charm: Hispanic Heritage Fiesta set to return on Sept. 17

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SILER CITY — After two years of pandemic-related cancellations, the Hispanic Heritage Fiesta is set to finally return — the first time since 2018 — to Siler City on Saturday, Sept. 17.

It’s a situation the Hispanic Liaison, the Fiesta’s primary organizers, has been approaching “with great enthusiasm,” according to Executive Director Ilana Dubester — especially with COVID-19 firmly in the rearview mirror.

“We really feel that we’re gonna do this again, and I don’t want to jinx it, but I don’t believe we’re going to go into lockdown in September,” Dubester told the News + Record. “So, bar the lockdown, yes, it’s happening.”

Fiesta had originally been set to return last September — and would have if a summer COVID-19 surge hadn’t prompted the Liaison to postpone it. The pandemic also prevented the town from celebrating Fiesta in 2020, and in 2019, the Liaison hosted an alternative anniversary celebration in its place.

As in years past, this year’s celebration will take place from noon to 6 p.m. in front of the Liaison’s office in downtown Siler City — and as of right now, no masks necessary.

“Of course, we will have masks available, so anybody’s welcome to wear one, if they would like. You still see them of course, and I still in some public spaces do wear a mask, but as of now we’re going to follow CDC with recommendations,” Dubester said. “If masks become in vogue again in September, then we’ll ask people to wear masks, but otherwise it will be optional.”

The Hispanic Heritage Fiesta is a large outdoor festival that the Hispanic Liaison, community members and other organizations throw each year to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, which begins on Sept. 15. It’s a free, half-day event which usually takes place on a Saturday afternoon.

There, Fiesta-goers usually find a little bit of everything. Hispanic bands and dance groups perform, while food vendors sell a variety of traditional dishes from various Latin American countries. Some community members arrive dressed in traditional outfits from their home countries to participate in a traditional outfit parade. Dozens of nonprofits and local businesses, including the Liaison, also use the opportunity to set up outreach tables and hand out information about their services.

All of that and more will be returning this year, Dubester said, including “more activities than we’ve had before for children.” Traditionally, Fiesta offers a separate area for children called Niñolandia offering kids’ arts, crafts and games. This year, Fiesta planners may have something extra in store for teenagers.

“Our youth are thinking of organizing an area for teens, versus just stuff for little children. Of course, but they’ll also be helping throughout Fiesta in a different aspect,” Dubester said. “ … We’ve just been brainstorming ideas about having a separate area where older children or teenagers — or not a semi-separate area, but activities specifically for them, so that’s the idea.”

The Fiesta will also host another health fair offering booths manned by health service providers as well as COVID-19 vaccinations, which Piedmont Health Services has already agreed to administer. Some confirmed providers as of now include the Chatham County Public Health Department, El Futuro and Healthy Blue NC.

“Hopefully, we’ll also be able to do vaccination for little kids,” Dubester said, “so we’ll just have to see if PHS is able to do that for babies, and if not, we’ll find another provider, but you know, the plan is for PHS to host the vaccine.”

The Fiesta will also host a raffle, for which the Liaison’s still gathering prizes. Two dance groups have confirmed they’ll perform during the festival as well, Dubester said, and she’s working on looping in Raleigh-based Danza Azteca Tonantzin, which performed during the 2018 Hispanic Heritage Fiesta. Organizers have yet to finalize which bands will play or which artist the N.C. Arts Incubator will host.

“We’re pulling together all the other details of stage and programming and logistics and everything else,” Dubester said. “ … So, this is like the recruitment phase: recruiting vendors, recruiting arts and crafts, recruiting food vendors, bands.”

What’s more, this year’s Fiesta will see an encore — literally.

The Chatham Rabbit has been playing host to the 2022 Siler City Downtown Music Series since April on every third Saturday from 6 to 8 p.m. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the series will bring in Latin trio Saludos Compay, whose playlist features traditional, contemporary and original music from Latin America and the Caribbean.

“So it’s going to be a kind of continuation of Fiesta as we’re wrapping up and packing, the band’s going to start at 6,” Dubester said, though the performance won’t be part of the event itself.

“But we’ll advertise that during our event and hope people will stay and enjoy another band in the evening,” she added. “If that works great, we might continue to do that. We’ll see how it goes this year in terms of that — having streets still blocked and things like that until 8 p.m. or something, until we finish packing up, but I know we’ll be enjoying the music as we pack up.”

Behind all the planning this year, as in years past, lies a Fiesta organizing committee made up primarily of community members. Around 80 to 100 volunteers typically participate in the event and in the event’s planning, along with other community members and organizations.

The committee held its first meeting on June 9 at the Alliance in downtown Siler City and saw a “great turnout,” according to Dubester. Besides the Liaison’s staff, about 17 community members joined.

“We always have some committee members that have attended or participated as volunteers and new ones, so we’re decided to also have parents and youth from Seaforth High School join this year, which is awesome,” she said. “[There were] some folks that helped organize Fiesta before and others that haven’t.”

The Fiesta organizing committee plans to meet at 5:30 p.m. every other Thursday at the Alliance. Meetings are held in Spanish, but staff may offer simultaneous interpretation for English speakers who wish to participate.

If community members can’t make the meeting but want to participate in Fiesta preparations, the Liaison also has them covered.

“There’ll be a ton of volunteers involved in different ways, not just the volunteer committee … we’ll be recruiting all kinds of people throughout that maybe can’t come to meetings, but will help us prepare decorations, will help us the day of the event, which I only have like 60 volunteers,” Dubester said. “So there’s lots of also volunteer opportunity.”

To get involved, call the Liaison’s office at 919-742-1448 and let staff know you want to help with Fiesta planning or volunteer at the event. The volunteer sign-up sheet will go up shortly on the Liaison’s website.

Likewise, businesses, vendors, nonprofits and agencies seeking a presence at Fiesta can register online or by phone until July 29. Visit https://bit.ly/3NaXAtO to apply or to find more information.

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

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