SILER CITY — Last year, COVID-19 forced organizers to cancel Siler City’s Hispanic Heritage Fiesta. The year before that, its primary organizer, the Hispanic Liaison, hosted an alternative …
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SILER CITY — Last year, COVID-19 forced organizers to cancel Siler City’s Hispanic Heritage Fiesta. The year before that, its primary organizer, the Hispanic Liaison, hosted an alternative anniversary celebration in its place.
But now, after two years, the crown jewel of Chatham’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations will return on Saturday, Sept. 11, in front of the Liaison’s office in downtown Siler City.
“It feels great (to announce),” the Liaison’s executive director, Ilana Dubester, told the News + Record. “It’s been a long two years. … Just the possibility of being together again outside and in celebration and (in the) community is huge. I think everybody’s needing some of that. I know we are.”
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, and food vendors sell a variety of traditional dishes from different 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 Hispanic Liaison, also use the opportunity to set up outreach tables and hand out information about their services.
And despite COVID-19, this year’s Fiesta won’t be too different from past celebrations, Dubester said. She still expects to see the “usual Fiesta things,” plus a health fair, offered for the past few years. This year, Dubester hopes the fair will even offer on-site COVID-19 vaccinations.
“We will certainly have our parade of traditional outfits, which has been such a beautiful part of Fiesta and one of my favorite parts of Fiesta. I’m sure we’ll have a raffle thing,” she said. “We’re excited about it. … We’re moving full steam ahead and fingers crossed for the best.”
The Liaison decided to move forward with Fiesta planning in part thanks to lifted gathering restrictions and increasing vaccination rates across the country, Dubester said.
“We are certainly hoping that there won’t be any kind of strange turn of events,” she said, adding, “Certainly if the winds are to change, we’ll have to adjust accordingly, but from the looks of it, and from talking to different people that I’ve consulted with about the possibility of Fiesta and what they thought about it — folks in the health department to the sheriff even — (we’re) feeling optimistic about the possibility of doing an outdoor event in September.”
To ensure the public’s safety, Dubester said for now they’re looking at instituting several COVID protocols designed to prevent spread.
Among other measures, the Hispanic Liaison plans to place Fiesta tents a bit farther apart than they’d done in the past to encourage social distancing. At stations where they expect lines — mostly food stations — they’ll also place six-foot markers on the ground. The celebration will also have plenty of disinfecting and handwashing areas.
“We will ask people to wear masks,” she said. “We will give out masks for those who don’t have it. Of course, much like the governor, we can’t force people to wear masks, but we will certainly be encouraging that.”
But, Dubester added, they may reassess closer to the event.
As in years past, 2021’s Hispanic Heritage Fiesta will also recruit a planning committee made up primarily of community members. Around 80 to 100 volunteers typically participate both in the event and in the event’s planning, along with other community members and organizations. The whole planning process usually begins in May.
“We have much more of an equal partnership with community members working on Fiesta,” Dubester told the News + Record last September. “And that’s kind of the whole point anyway — to bring out local talents and help foment local leadership and ownership of the event and really reflect the community that we are.”
The Liaison’s begun looking for both community members and interested organizations to help with Fiesta planning. Fiesta has a core group of volunteers who tend to participate every year, Dubester said, but anyone is welcome. Meetings likely won’t start until June, and depending on members’ vaccination statuses, they may meet outdoors.
“If it’s mixed status, then we’ll meet outdoors,” she said. “... And if everybody’s vaccinated, we might meet indoors at the Farmers Alliance, who’ve also been so kind as to loan us their space for meetings. So it just depends on the group and what levels of vaccination. But we hope to have at least 20 community members participate in the planning.”
Meetings will probably be held in the evening as they have in the past. To ensure the planning process is “most accessible to our community,” Dubester also said all meetings are held in Spanish.
“Sometimes we have folks that understand Spanish from the community at large and want to participate, but don’t speak it that well and then we just do things like interpreting for them at the meeting when they want to talk,” she added, “but it’s not like full interpretation of everything.”
To get involved, call the Liaison’s office at 919-742-1448 and let staff know you want to help with Fiesta planning. Thereafter, you’ll be placed on the participant list and will be called when the Liaison holds meetings. Businesses and nonprofits can likewise sign up to receive updates by sending an email to email@example.com.
“Our best organizers really are community members,” she said, “and we really can’t do without them for sure.”
Reporter Victoria Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.