Category Archives: Festival

Whispers from the Past – A Native American Experience

Whispers from the Past – October 2017

There is an event called Whispers from the Past that takes place each fall at Aldridge Gardens in Hoover.  I’ve always wanted to go but for some reason or another, I’ve never made it.  This year I was determined to go and I knew my mother would love it so we made plans to go.  The event is designed to provide attendees with an accurate portrayal of the lives – both past and present – of Native Americans in the Southeast.  There are approximately 530 different tribes in the US, each with its own customs and language.  That day we were just hitting upon a handful and the event  definitely lived up to its educational purpose.

We arrived just in time for the first dance demonstration – the Native American Pow Wow dancers.  As the dancers prepared their beautiful regalia, we listened to Alex Alvarez as he introduced each dance.  We learned that Pow Wows are the Native American people’s way of gathering in dance, song and friendship.  He went into great detail about the regalia, the significance of all the regalia, the reason for the dance and also a little information about each dancer who had traveled from all over the Southeast to participate in the event.

One dancer in particular, a young woman, wore a dress with metal cones that jingled when she walked and danced.  Alex explained that this was a healing dance and that there were several versions of a story involving a dream where the dress to be worn along with the dance and song to be performed appeared to a person.  Instructions on how the dance and costume would be used were spelled out in the dream.

The dance with the men wearing the bustles was incredible!  I think the back of the clothing in this instance was more striking than the front.  The dance signified the retelling of stories of the hunt to their tribe.  The beaded moccasins were adorned with fur from Icelandic sheep.  Alex mentioned that when a Native American wears something from an animal they are asking for that trait to reflect upon them.  The bone bead breastplates were worn to keep arrows from piercing their chests and the head-piece was made from porcupine.

There were several other dances and I hate that I lost track of their significance.  Taking notes while photographing was a little difficult! That’s why I let my photos tell the stories at times.  This is one of those times!

This was a very kid-friendly event with activities galore!  One that mom and I found very beautiful was leaf pounding….and it’s just what it sounds like!  We walked around the back of the Aldridge Gardens house and there were people placing leaves between two strips of white cotton fabric and pounding the leafs with a rock to make the transfer.  Some of the designs were really beautiful too!  Mom and I picked up the instructions and decided to try this at home.

Other families were making dream catchers together.  These are so iconic when you think of Native Americans.  We thought about making one ourselves but then mom spotted artist Jim “White Cloud” Hill doing a sage cleansing on someone and she was intrigued!  We walked around after watching a cleansing but she kept mentioning it so we went back so she could experience this.

The use of smoke is not uncommon in religion.  For Catholics, incense is used during mass and it is also used by Buddhist and others.  To many people it can symbolize spirituality.  For Native Americans,  the cleansing is done using a large feather to fan the smoke in order to rid the person from any negative energy and help with healing.  I could tell this ritual was having quite a positive effect on my  mother as I watched this play out.  She smiled sweetly as she followed Mr. Hill’s instructions during the process.  Afterward, he gave her a hug and maybe it was my imagination, but she appeared “lighter.”

Mom and I learned a lot that day at Aldridge Gardens.  It left us wanting to know more and I hope we can find other ways to learn about Native American culture in Alabama.  I know there are opportunities…

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Alabama Dia de los Muertos Celebrates Quince Años!

 

Dia de los Muertos celebrates Quince años!

Dia de los Muertos Alabama, presented by Bare Hands Gallery, celebrated 15 years this year!  I know I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again…after my beloved Fiesta, this is my second favorite festival of the year.  Fiesta board members have always felt a kinship with DOD Alabama going back to our fifth year in existence.  That was the year we “discovered” one another as each of our festivals grew and that was the year we decided to support one another.

This festival has been looking for a forever home since it lost its original location last year due to the changes in the Birmingham landscape.  The Rotary Trail was completed and it just wasn’t possible to use the same area for a festival this big.  Last year, the festival temporarily moved to Cahaba Brewery and it was packed.  After the crowd that showed up, they knew they needed more space so this year they secured Pepper Place for the event.

Papel Picado lines 2nd Avenue South between the main altar area and the main stage at DOD 2017

The entrance was at 3rd Avenue South with sponsors lining the left hand side.  A portion of 2nd Avenue South was closed off to house the main stage on one side and the food court on the other.  The main altar site was in the middle between the two in a large parking area.  It was so beautiful and reminiscent of the original location.  Two large brick walls surrounded the space and were used to hang murals and other décor.  Chairs were set up around the site with fire pits as was done in the old location.  I can remember years when it was so cold that those fire pits were a God-send!  Lights were strung between the walls and papel picado was everywhere!  The Mercado was in the parking lot of Pepper Place and there were so many vendors with beautiful hand crafted items for sale!  I wanted one of everything!

This year, the set up allowed for more space and a better flow to all the event components.  The event was crowded but there was more space to walk around and not feel like you were being walked on or constantly running into someone.

I arrived at 3 p.m. to photograph some of the set up yesterday.  I always like to get there early to do this and then I stay until after sunset to take photos by candlelight and enjoy catching up with friends.  This year I had a meeting to attend from 4 to 7 so  when I got back to the site, the line to enter was down the block!  Luckily, I had pre-purchased my ticket so walked directly up to the entrance and was given my wrist band!  (Lesson to you folks who didn’t plan ahead!)

People watching at DOD is always entertaining and I love the way more and more are painting their faces as sugar skulls and dressing up.  They embrace this event and seem to take the time to understand the reason behind it…why it is important and why it exists.  It’s not just a costume party, it’s a remembrance of loved ones who have passed on and a way to keep their memories alive for ourselves and a way to tell others about them.

There is also such artistic talent in our city and so much of this talent is displayed at this event in the costumes, the unique vendor items and of course, the altar creations.  I am always inspired when I see what is created and moved to tears by at least one thing I see.  This year, there was an altar created to honor the people who have perished in the many natural disasters experienced in 2017.  It was both haunting and moving…

Here are some of my photos from last night…sometimes it’s just easier to tell the story with photographs.  Meanwhile, happy Quince to DOD Alabama…it was a fabulous event! Viva la Vida!

Fiesta 2017 – A Celebration of Generations!

Fiesta Co-Presidents, Teresa Zuniga Odom and Vanessa Vargas pose with the newly unveiled Fiesta 15th Anniversary – Quince – logo!

A Celebration of Generations…that’s what Fiesta 2017, the Quinceañera, was billed as and it definitely delivered!

Planning Fiesta has turned into a year-round job for our board of directors and our incredible event manager, Denise Koch.  In recent years, we’ve begun the planning process in November instead of waiting until February.  As the festival grows, this is a must in order to stay ahead of the game and also make sure we are offering our patrons new and exciting additions to the event each year.  We are a working board but everyone also has a day job too so…

Our Fiesta t-shirts this year – Fiesta…then Siesta!

During our anniversary years in the past, the board had a new logo created in celebration and we’ve looked for significant ways to make Fiesta more exciting.  Our 15th anniversary – Quinceañera – was quite a milestone so we really wanted to ramp thing up!  It was a coming of age of our festival!  Last November, the board decided that during our anniversary years, it would be beneficial to have co-presidents at the helm in order to share the work load.  Board member, Vanessa Vargas and I were voted in as co-Presidents which lent itself nicely to our theme – with Vanessa representing the younger generation – the daughter, and me representing the older generation – the mother.   The next month, over lunch with board member Lui Fernandez, the Fiesta theme was born which cemented our charge for Fiesta 2017 – “a celebration of generations!”  I remember getting goose bumps when Lui explained his ideas for the year and threw out the tagline!  Vanessa and I were so excited and ready to assume our roles as “Fiesta Mother and Daughter!”

Looking back on Fiesta 2017 and our path to Quince…I have to say…it was our best festival to date!  Every quadrant of Linn Park was filled and we had well over 100 tents in the park – a record for us.  Park Place, the road running on one side of the park, was also filled with the presence of the McDonalds Fiesta Tour which had rebranded and looked amazing!  McDonalds, our Title Sponsor, was also handing out slushie samples and I heard they ran out!  That’s a lot of people drinking slushies!!!

The weather was gorgeous all day long and I once again loved going from booth to booth to photograph friends – old and new –  and thank them for being a part of Fiesta’s Quince!  This year I had Vanessa with me for most of the visits and loved having that experience with her.  I also really can’t remember a time when we had as much pre-publicity for our event!  Vanessa and I were booked on every station and one radio station leading up to the event.  At one point during the festival, Vanessa and I had “dueling TV interviews” going on in the VIP section!  Vane was talking to CBS and I was talking to NBC.   We always had a great time with Claire Per-Lee of Style Advertising (Fiesta’s Advertising Agency) at each interview and she always photographed and videoed so we could have that memory.  She made each appearance so easy for us complete with talking points and props needed for the interview.  Claire, Vanessa and I were in such constant contact in the weeks leading up to Fiesta that it’s a little weird not getting several text messages a day from each other now!

Everywhere I looked at this year, sponsors and nonprofits were doing a great job of reaching patrons and drawing them in.  Swag from these booths was over the top!  There was just SO much activity all over the park that it was hard to catch it all.  That’s when I know we’ve hit a home run!   We always throw sponsor items from the stage, but this year we really ramped it up and the crowd loved it!  We’ve done this before but not to this level.

Throwing swag from the stage!

Volunteers…I can’t say enough about volunteers in general.  They can make or break your event. It you’ve been involved with events, you know this.  For Fiesta though, we’ve always been fortunate to have wonderful volunteers who have the spirit of the event at heart.  This year I wasn’t able to secure a volunteer coordinator for this festival so I took on the task myself.  And I was a little worried, I have to admit…especially with all the other responsibilities I had leading into Fiesta.  That is…until I got a message from a Spanish teacher Charity Jackson at Parker High School.  She said she had about 15-20 students who wanted to volunteer!  I was ecstatic!!!  And then she contacted me and said she had more students who wanted to volunteer!  By the time I had the volunteer schedule pulled together two days before the event, she had 35 students committed to working at Fiesta!  Ms. Jackson kept thanking me for having them at Fiesta but I told her several time that she really saved “me” by having her students there.  They were incredible…and so was she!

Spanish Teacher Charity Jackson with her students from Park High School – these kids were the best volunteers!

There are so many more stories about Fiesta 2017 that I could tell…but as I have done in the past, I think it’s best shown in photos.  If you came out to Fiesta, thank you…from the bottom of my heart for sharing our Quince with us!  If you weren’t able to be there…for whatever reason, I hope you enjoy a walk through our Quince in these photos!

 

Fiesta Fridays! 2013

NOTE:  Fiesta Fridays is a special series to highlight the many memories I have of Fiesta through the photographs I’ve taken since 2003.

Such a perfect picture of Fiesta to me….the weather was beautiful and the families came out to enjoy a day in Birmingham’s Linn Park!

Fiesta 2013 took place on a beautiful and sunny day.  The weather was perfect!  When the sun is out there is always so much energy throughout the day…from the moment we arrive to set up until the last act finishes up on the mainstage…it was a great day for Fiesta!

The Birmingham Pledge station late in the afternoon – one side had the Birmingham pledge in English and the other in Spanish.

This was the year of the Birmingham Pledge.  The Pledge has become such a big part of the fabric of Birmingham in recent years.  Written in 1997 by Birmingham Attorney James E. Rotch, it is a statement of principles at the heart of a grassroots effort to eliminate racism and prejudice in the world.  It was first introduced publicly at the 1998 MLK Unity Breakfast in Birmingham.  Since then, over 150,000 people have signed the pledge online and it continues to be a source for unity through conferences and study circles.  The Fiesta board felt our event was the perfect place to have a display.  We contacted Wade Black, the Executive Director of the Birmingham Pledge Foundation and told him what we wanted to do and he was so excited about the visual we were creating!  I was happy that Wade was happy.  He was an educator and filmmaker and such a huge part of all things related to social justice in our city for so long.  Sadly he passed away in February 2014.  I am forever grateful that we included the pledge at Fiesta while Wade was still with us.

We had a two-sided large stand-up display created of the Birmingham Pledge.  One side was in English and the other in Spanish.  Home Depot helped with the managing of the display.  Fiesta patrons were invited to place a hand print on the display throughout the day.  It was such a beautiful site!  I stopped taking pictures long enough to put my hand print on the display.  Fiesta board member, Matt Ennis, and I happened to be at the display at the same time and my husband took my camera and captured us inking up and strategically placing our hands on the white canvas.  I was so happy to do this with another board member…  Later that day, I returned to the display to see it covered with hand prints and see my friend and photographer, Larry O. Gay, capture a Hispanic mother placing her baby’s footprint on the canvas. He always gets the best shots!

We are fortunate to always have the beautiful fountain at Linn Park on display at Fiesta.  We place the presenting and patron sponsors around the fountain and there is always a lot of foot traffic in this area.  This year the children seemed to really love the fountain and I managed to catch a few photos of them dangling their feet in the water.  There was such joy and excitement in their mood.  In fact, children and families always make Fiesta so perfect for me.  I love searching for families enjoying different aspects of the event and photographing them.  I’ve included a few of those photos in this post.

Another favorite photo from 2013 was of the elderly gentleman at the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame booth playing his saxophone.  He was near the cultural village and I think I went by several times just to hear him.  His music added a different dimension to Fiesta with his jazz sounds in the midst of all the Latin sounds!  It all merged together quite well though and the crowd loved him!

On the Coca Cola Main Stage, we had Henry Santos performing as the second to last act.  This Dominican artist certainly had the ladies all a flutter during his performance!  He invited one young lady to the stage to dance with him and it turned out to be a young woman I knew from The Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (HICA)!  She was up front and center waiting for his performance when I captured a photo of her.  I was so happy that she got to go on stage with him during one of the songs.  She was clearly loving it and so was the crowd!  We’ve had several artists pull audience members on stage over the years.  The crowd loves it and it carries the family feel of the festival through the night.

More to come to please come back every other Friday through September 30, 2017, for more behind the scenes stories of Fiesta!

Had to include this photo of me with my mother and two of her neighbors…mom is always at Fiesta if she is able and love every minute of it!

Fiesta Fridays! 2012

NOTE:  Fiesta Fridays is a special series to highlight the many memories I have of Fiesta through the photographs I’ve taken since 2003.


Fiesta 2012 brought our festival back to downtown Birmingham.  After two years in Hoover, Alabama, we decided to move back to Birmingham and were welcomed with open arms by the City!  Of course, there was more to it than that…it was our 10th anniversary and the Board of Directors felt that we needed to celebrate this milestone where we began all those years ago.

Ballet Foklorico Corazon Azteca performs on the Coca Cola main stage.

In addition to the celebration, we worked on getting an updated logo created.  That logo was revealed in April of 2012 to a crowd of sponsors, supporters and friends of Fiesta.  Birmingham Mayor William Bell was on hand to witness the unveiling and also receive recognition for being a long time supporter of the event along with other long time sponsors.  That event set the stage for the excitement to follow for the event that year.

We settled back in to Linn Park without skipping a beat.  I remember it was a beautiful sunny day and my family was with me to help out as we got set up.  That is always the best for me…having my husband and kids around to be a part of Fiesta.  Setting up I did my “thing” – walked around taking pictures of all the booths and talking to everyone there.  It’s become my favorite thing to do at Fiesta every year.  I get to see everyone, greet them and take a photo before things get into full swing.  That year, my daughter, Anna Marie, was with me so it made it doubly special.


I remember seeing Church of the Highlands out in full force.  Volunteers began draping large flags of the Latin American countries around their tent and through the park around some of the trees.  I stopped to take pictures and thought how wonderful that was!  I mean, we have flags in the cultural village but this group was making sure that all the countries were represented with this action.  I loved it…

Another favorite memory is watching the Home Depot team get set up for the day.  Their team had a meeting right before gates opened and I caught our board member, Chris Miller, who worked with Home Depot at the time, getting everyone ready for the day.  I remember thinking how beautiful the “picture” was because of their orange vests and the fall colors of the trees.

 

The entertainment was also pretty stellar that day.  I thought Las Valenzuela – the trio of Mexican beauties who performed early that evening, were terrific!  They definitely got the attention of the men with their performance!  Of course, we made sure the women got equal time with the presence of Toby Love!  The energy at the main stage that night was incredible!

Everything just seemed brighter that day for some reason.  The energy that day was over the top and it’s hard to explain…when I look at my photos everything seemed brilliant.  I think part of this was the fact that we were back where we started.  Linn Park makes everyone feel like they are being hugged.  I can’t think of another way to explain it.  It’s grassy, green, there are trees, and it always feels like we are being caressed by the city.  It was great to be back in Birmingham that day…and we felt so welcomed…

More to come so please come back every other Friday through September 30, 2017, for more behind the scenes stories of Fiesta!

 

Fiesta Fridays! 2010

The Cultural Village entrance was used as the “official” Fiesta entrance for year 2010 at Hoover Met.

NOTE:  Fiesta Fridays is a special series to highlight the many memories I have of Fiesta through the photographs I’ve taken since 2003.

Fiesta 2010 brought quite a few changes to our festival.  After 2009, the board met in a strategic planning session and discussed moving the festival to another location.  Hoover, Alabama came to mind because of the city’s diverse population.  We were going into year 8 and the feeling was that if we were going to do something big, now was the time!

A huge crowd gathers in front of the main stage around mid-afternoon at Fiesta 2010.

The move took a little time to process and recently I found a series of emails from this time period and it threw me right back into this planning period.  We essentially had about 4-5 months to get Fiesta pulled together that year!  Once we met with Hoover Mayor Tony Petelos and discussed our desire to mover the festival to Hoover and got his support, the actual logistics of the event were handled like clockwork.  Erin Colbaugh, Hoover’s Event Coordinator, was a dream to work with and so things stayed on track in that area as our board, committees and Fiesta’s own event manager, Denise Koch, planned the festival details.

The location we selected was the Hoover Met.  We were able to use the grassy area outside the stadium for our Family Area and everything else was set up in the RV park.  One of the benefits of the RV park was the access to electricity for every tent that was set up.  There was also plenty of parking for Fiesta guests!  We were able to set up a perimeter around the park to enable us to charge admission to the event.  (All proceeds from ticket sales always go toward Fiesta scholarship.)

This was also the first year of our partnership with Home Depot!  I remember having phone conversations with a guy by the name of Chris Miller leading up to the event – very soft spoken, laid back.  Chris was organizing the Home Depot “army” for the event complete with orange aprons, children’s area crafts and a team of volunteers.  One of the most awesome sights that year was the sea of orange coming from the Family area!  It certainly complimented the Fiesta color scheme!  I got to meet Chris that day too and a few years later, we elected him to our Fiesta Board.  The rest, as they say…is history!

A father, mother and child enjoy the music at Fiesta 2010. This is my favorite photo from Fiesta 2010…really captures the Fiesta spirit of familia!!

Probably my favorite photo from 2010 is this one (above)…a family…in front of the Coca Cola Main stage listening to the music.  I don’t know…it just symbolized Fiesta for me that year…that no matter where Fiesta takes place, it’s about family and community.  The community came out in full force to Fiesta in our new location and we were happy with the change that year.

More to come so please come back every other Friday through September 30, 2017 for more behind the scenes stories of Fiesta!

Fiesta Fridays! 2009

Some of the Fiesta team all bundled up for a group photo – Fiesta 2009 – the coldest event in our then 7 year history! (Lto R – Stacy Kimbrough, Phil Sandoval, Mike Suco, Me, Jamika Kirk and Denise Lovoy Koch)

NOTE:  Fiesta Fridays is a special series to highlight the many memories I have of Fiesta through the photographs I’ve taken since 2003.

Back when the Fiesta board was getting the festival started, we were always told the best time of year to have an event was late September through mid-October.  We loved hearing this because having the event during Hispanic Heritage Month – which falls between September 15 and October 15 each year – was our plan.  We were fortunate to have wonderful weather for six years in a row…and then we got to 2009…and the tables turned on us.  It was SO COLD!!!

To me this was a true test of our event.  Would people come out to our event in the cold?  Better yet, would they come out and STAY?  The answer was yes and YES!  You’ve heard of “fair weather friends,” – well, that year we discovered we had “all weather friends!”  We had many new patrons come through, but when I look back on the photos from this particular year, I see so many friends who threw on coats, hats and gloves and came out to Fiesta despite the cold!

These are some of my favorite friend photos of that cold day…

This was also the year we highlighted some of the Fiesta scholarship winners by creating posters to display at the event.  We really wanted to put a face on scholarships for Fiesta patrons.  The posters contained the recipient’s photo and name, along with their major and a sentence or two about what it meant to win the Fiesta scholarship.  While most people who attend our event know they are coming to a Hispanic cultural festival, many don’t know about the reason Fiesta was created in the first place – to award scholarships to deserving Hispanic students who have a need in our community.  The money is raised each year through the event sponsorships, donations and the admission tickets.

In 2008, we awarded $5K each to Samford University, University of Alabama at Birmingham and Miles College to create a Fiesta scholarship at each school.  That was the largest award we had ever made in one year due to the success of Fiesta the previous years.    I remember how excited the board members were to do this and we really felt as though Fiesta had arrived and reached the potential we had all hoped for in the early years.  The students featured on the posters were the ones who received the 2008 awards.  Many participated in Fiesta in some way and that made the awards even more special to us.

 

 

More to come so please come back every other Friday through September 30, 2017, for more behind the scenes stories of Fiesta!