Category Archives: Hispanic

Fiesta – Celebrating in Full Color / Celebrando a todo color!

This year, Fiesta, Alabama’s largest celebration of Hispanic culture and heritage, turned 16.  It’s incredible to me that this little festival, created so many years ago to award scholarships to Hispanic students, has been around this long!  Every year, the number of people who come out to Linn Park to celebrate the best of all things Hispanic, thrills me!  And then I get nostalgic, remembering previous years and I get excited about the traditions the Fiesta board has kept alive all these years.

This year, the board met early to brainstorm how we would top our 15th anniversary celebration – our Quinceañera.  I love it when the conversation starts, the ideas are tossed out and everyone starts talking at once because of the excitement!  It was like that when we decided on our theme this year – Celebrando a todo color / Celebrating in Full Color!

We’ve always said that when people think of Hispanic culture the one word that is universal in describing it is “colorful.”  It’s a nod to the individual cultures of the many Hispanic countries along with the different foods, music and dance.  It really was the perfect theme for Fiesta!

Each year we try to think of something different to offer our patrons and this year it was all about taking the “Fiesta” to each of the villages.  We engaged local talent to do this, which to me, made the event more personal.  For instance, the mariachi band we invited this year  – Mariachi Premier de America – started performing in the middle of the park at the gazebo.  After they finished their set, they walked to the different villages to sing more songs.  Many of the people working the booths at the different villages don’t always get the opportunity to hear and see what all happens at Fiesta so this was especially nice for them.  I saw a friend a week after Fiesta who was working at the Health & Wellness village and she said the people at their tent were so thrilled to be “serenaded” by the mariachi band and hoped we would do this again next year!  This is how traditions get started…

We also brought a lot of cultural performances back to Fiesta this year.  From the Aztec performers to the traditional Mexican dancers, we had many colorful acts for people to see and enjoy.   The Girl Scouts of North Central Alabama opened Fiesta with their traditional flag ceremony and the march of the Hispanic flags around the park.  My dear friend, Marisela Mendez, got this tradition started several years ago and we love seeing the Girl Scouts – some dressed in their uniforms and some dressed in traditional Hispanic outfits – participate in Fiesta each year.  It’s a personal highlight for me each year.  Next, Banda Azteca Tonantzin from St. Francis Xavier Church in Birmingham drew quite a crowd for their first appearance in front of the main stage.  I don’t believe we’ve ever had anything quite like this at Fiesta and I hope they’ll come back again because there were moments when I was quite moved watching this group perform.

One of the best moments this year was the last song on the main stage.  Our headliner, Frankie J, was performing and started pulling those of us at the back of the stage towards him.  The rest of the board came up too and we danced along with Frankie J. as he sang us to the end of Fiesta 2018.  It was one of those spontaneous moments that you couldn’t recreate if you tried and the entire board walked away elated about this ending.  There are a few videos floating around of us all on stage with Frankie J. and I’ve seen them several times.  I love that those are available for us to relive this wonderful moment from Fiesta 2018!  And on that note, time to start planning Fiesta 2019!

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! 2011

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

This is probably my favorite photo from Fiesta 2011…this little girl was enjoying the Family village face painting and Home Depot activities!

Fiesta 2011 was one for the record books!  When I think back on this particular year, there was so much going on and also a bit of turmoil.  Turmoil…that’s not a word you would normally associate with a festival, but in this particular year, we had a bit of that with the creation of the state’s anti-illegal immigration bill called HB 56.

This law went into effect the week of Fiesta, so naturally the board and committee members were concerned.  We didn’t want trouble for our event nor did we want people to target us for any negative reason.  I mean, we are a cultural festival…we don’t have a political agenda.  We’ve made that clear from day one of our event.  But the reality is when you have a bill such as this and a Hispanic event about to take place, the natural inclination was to be targeted by the press to get a comment or two about the situation.  Usually an event works hard to get the media to cove them because you never know if a breaking new story will divert their attention. Well, in this case we didn’t have to hustle a bit!  All the networks came out and I remember vividly having 3 to 4 microphones pushed in my face asking me questions about the bill and how we felt about it.  I had my talking points down beforehand and stuck to those during the interviews.  To this day, I can’t believe I was able to get through all those questions but the press was more than kind with their coverage of Fiesta that year.  We are forever grateful for that!

In fact, the greater community came out in droves to support us.  We had a lot of first time patrons because they disagreed with the new law and wanted to show support in some way.  They figured attending a Hispanic event was a good way to show solidarity.  I had many people tell me this that day.  It was so heartwarming.  Keep in mind, Fiesta was created to showcase ALL Hispanic countries…not just Mexico.  So this really fit into the education component of our mission.  Yes, the majority of attendees are generally Mexican and the assumption is always that they are undocumented.  But Fiesta has always been proud of the diversity in not only attendance, but also participants of the event.

We called it the largest Mexican pizza in the world! Thanks go out to the city of Hoover and our partnership with Little Caesars Pizza for making this possible!

Fiesta 2011 had so much to offer that year.  Aside from the cultural, nonprofit and family villages, we were able to create a partnership with Little Caesar’s Pizza to create what we called the “world’s largest Mexican pizza.”  The City of Hoover has a giant oven that they have used at evens to bake a gigantic apple pie.  We were able to get permission to use that oven and the pizza was created!!!  It was amazing to see the crane bring the oven in and pull the huge pan out for the toppings to be added.  I loved watching the guy crawl out on what looked like a diving board to test and see if the pizza the “done.”  People gathered to watch and wait patiently to sample this savory pizza!

On a personal note, my daughter Emily, completed her Girl Scout Gold Award project that year at Fiesta.  She brought friends together to create a skit in English and Spanish on recycling and presented it over the afternoon for groups of families.  She also handed out water bottles with information on how to recycle to children in the Family Village.  The bottles were labeled “Message in a bottle/Mensaje en una botella.”  In addition, she contacted Recycle Alabama to bring recycling bins to Fiesta for the first time ever.  All in all, it was a very successful project and it was great to see the Family Village so active with Emily and her friends.  This was a great compliment to the Home Depot army that was present once again that year!

We had a challenge with our musical acts that year too.  As you can probably imagine, several of the music acts we had booked cancelled at the last minute due to the political climate in the state.  Who could blame them…but that’s not exactly the news you want to hear right before the festival opens!!!  At any rate, we were able to draw from many local acts to fill the gaps.  We also had the talents of DJ Crème from New York that year who was fantastic and really stepped up with the situation facing us.  The final act of the night was contacted around one o’clock that day and agreed to drive all the way from Nashville to perform for us.  They were fabulous and teamed up with DJ Crème to really cap off Fiesta 2011.

I think this was the year I realized just how many friends Fiesta has…I mean, it would have been easy to abandon our little festival due to the politics of the day.  But we had so much support surrounding us that day.  I know many memories were created that day.  For me, this was probably the most memorable since the first Fiesta.  We came through turmoil and were made better because of it all.

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

 

 

Fiesta Fridays! 2007

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

The Blue Demon Luchador makes his first appearance at Fiesta in 2007!

Fiesta 2007 brought several new additions to the event.  It was our 5th anniversary so everyone involved was so excited that we had made it this far!  It also turned out to be one of our biggest years ever with over 20K people attending!  I was board president that year and the board members and volunteers seemed to be settling into a great rhythm with the planning and engaging both the English and Spanish-speaking communities.  This was also the year we went out on a “so-called” limb and decided the time was right for wrestling!!!

Our presenting sponsor – Coca Cola – had just launched a new energy drink called Full Throttle Blue Demon and had acquired Mexican luchador (wrestler) Blue Demon, Jr. to help with promotions in Mexico. The board was having a meeting several months before our 2007 Fiesta event when we started discussing new aspects of our event.   Lucha Libre was mentioned and board member, Mike Suco (with Coca Cola) brought up Blue Demon.  Things took off quickly from there and before you knew it, we had Blue Demon making a weekend appearance in Alabama and we had also partnered with Wrestle Birmingham to bring a ring and local wrestlers to Fiesta!  The ring was set up right next to the Coca Cola Main Stage and the crowd that gathered was incredible!  I remember standing on the main stage and getting some pretty awesome photos of the wrestling matches!  The crowd that gathered that year was incredible!

Blue Demon made a return appearance in 2008 to huge crowds.  He was definitely popular!  The current Fiesta board is looking at bringing wrestling or Lucha Libre, back to Fiesta for our 15th anniversary celebration.  Fingers crossed it works out!  I would love to see all that excitement once again at our event!

Antonio Sacre, storyteller, performer and author, makes his first appearance at Fiesta in 2007 in the Storytelling Village.

Fiesta also created a new village in 2007 – the Storytelling Village.  We were lucky enough to find Antonio Sacre, a storyteller, performer and author of Irish-Cuban descent to highlight the village.  And let me tell you, he not only highlighted the Storytelling Village…he ended up highlighting the entire festival!!!  He didn’t just stay in one part of Linn Park that day!  He was all over the place, finding opportunities to tell stories in the cultural village, on the main stage and just lend his all around good nature and great stories to the delight of the many guests that day at Fiesta!  No group was too small or too large for Antonio!

The Storytelling Village itself was such a great set up…we had beanbag chairs for kids to relax in and hear stories read to them by UAB college students.  The Birmingham Public Library also partnered with us to make this village come alive.  Bilingual books were donated so kids got to read, hear the books read, and then go home with one to enjoy!  Families flocked to the new village that year and seemed to really enjoy the peace and quiet offered there…away from the activity of the other areas of Fiesta but close enough to still see what was going on.

Antonio Sacre made a return visit to Fiesta in 2008 and this time he came for the entire weekend.  We arranged for him to visit several schools on Friday and he became quite the ambassador for Fiesta that year!  I know we saw an increase in family attendance from the schools visited.  I was fortunate enough to chauffeur him around that day.  And on Friday night we had a reception at the Birmingham Public Library where we heard from Antonio,  had a book signing and we also hosted several Fiesta scholarship winners.  Our local CBS news affiliate even came out to cover the event!

I have one more great memory of Antonio and the 2008 year and it is unrelated to the Fiesta event…  There was a Leonardo DaVinci exhibit at the Birmingham Museum of Art that fall.  The BMA had been a partner with Fiesta for many years so I had some tickets to the exhibit.  We had some time before the first school visit and I asked Antonio if he wanted to go.  He said “sure!”  It turned out to be such a fun few hours walking around the museum with him and listening to his thoughts on the DaVinci’s drawings and other artifacts.  It was such a treat for me to hear Antonio’s impressions through an artists’ mind.

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

Fiesta Fridays! 2003 to 2006

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, Alabama’s largest celebration of Hispanic culture and heritage is 15 years old this year!  I’ve been spending a lot of time going through old files and photos and reliving the early years of this festival.  Getting a festival like this started was a lot of work and yet those of us who were there at the beginning really didn’t know how big this event would become – or how long it would last!  These photos and document revealed so much history and so many people involved for all these years.  As I was reliving moment through photos, I was also recalling stories and my personal thoughts.  So as we get closer to our 15th anniversary this year, I decided to begin posting a photo each Friday with a little story – I’m calling these “Fiesta Friday” photos on Facebook and Instagram.  It occurred to me though that there is more to tell about some of these photos and the people involved and the best way to do this is on my blog.

So this post will be about the photos I’ve already posted from 2003 to 2006.  There are so many photos to choose from too!  I started taking the photos at Fiesta the first year never imagining that I would become the official “unofficial” photographer of the event.  I was using film and switched to digital a few years later but these are the photos that really stick out to me of the thousands that I’ve taken.

Fiesta 2003 – My friends Lui Fernandez and Jasmine Reyes dance next to the Main Stage while Susan Daywood, Rei Ramos and Hernan Prado watch and enjoy the music!

2003 – Fiesta’s first year…  I was at the main stage – the Coca Cola main stage and found a group of friends from the Hispanic Business Council (HBC) on the side of the stage dancing and having a great time.  It was getting close to the final acts and everyone was so happy about the success of our first ever event!  We had expected about 2,000 people to come through but when the numbers were finally counted, we had about 7,000 attendees our very first year!  Overwhelming would be an appropriate word to describe our feelings that day.  I snapped this photo of Jasmine Reyes dancing with a young man.  Behind her are Susan Daywood with the City of Birmingham and a member of the HBC, Rei Ramos with the HBC and Hernan Prado, also with the HBC.  What I didn’t realize at the time is that the young man Jasmine was dancing with would become a huge part of Fiesta.  Luis “Lui” Fernandez is a current board member and has been instrumental in creating the “heart” of Fiesta – the Cultural Village.  He took it from a few posters to a group of community members excited about portraying their respective countries and sharing this information with Fiesta guests each year.  When he is in charge of something, I never worry about how it will turn out because Lui has a special talent in creating something to remember!

Fiesta 2003 – Salsa dancers on the main stage

2004 -Fiesta’s second year – This photo was taken from the Coca Cola Main Stage and is of two dancers.  They drew quite the crowd early in the day that year.  Their dancing was on point along with the DJ playing salsa music.  I was taken by the pure joy of the dance that they shared with Fiesta guests that day.  This photo was used in many of the early marketing and advertising we used of Fiesta to potential sponsors and on our website.

Entrance to the Cultural Village created by Lui Fernandez – Fiesta 2004

2004 – Another photo from Fiesta’s second year is of the entrance to the Cultural Village.  You’ve already read how much I admire and respect Lui Fernandez’s talent and this particular year, he decided to create an actual entrance to the village!  I like to say that this was the year the Cultural Village really came to life!  It was the year that music broke out all over the village and people were dancing on the sidewalk and there was always a steady crowd of people walking through to experience this community driven village.  Lui created the entrance with the logo and before the event opened, he added flags from all the Hispanic countries to the white posts which made the entrance even more colorful.  It was such a beautiful sight!

Fiesta board member – Mike Suco – helps his parents, Teresa and Ramon Suco – set up the Cuba booth in the Cultural Village in 2005.

2005 – Fiesta’s 3rd year – This is such a favorite photo of mine because it features Fiesta board member, Mike Suco with his parents – Teresa and Ramon Suco.  Mike’s mother, Teresa, found out that Cuba was NOT represented the year before in the cultural village and she was not going to let that happen that particular year!  She took it upon herself to create a beautiful Cuba booth along with her husband and as you can see in this photo – her son, Mike too!  Teresa and Ramon Suco fled Cuba under the Castro regime in 1962, shortly after they were married and came to the US not knowing the language or anyone and made a great life for themselves and their children.  Mr.Suco worked his way to District Supervisor at Big B Drugs while Teresa Suco became a Professor of Spanish at Jacksonville State University.  I remember the first year I was President of Fiesta, Mike told me his mother asked about me and wanted to make sure I was doing all right and he was helping me enough!  I always felt we had a special bond because we shared the same name.  Such lovely people…

2006 – Fiesta’s 4th year – I had been photographing Fiesta all day and was trying to head over to the VIP area to grab a quick bite to eat when I saw Cultural Village (CV) Chair, Lui Fernandez rush over to me.  He excitedly told me I needed to get to the CV stage right away and get some pictures!  Of course, I followed him right over and there on the stage were the cutest children dressed in traditional Mexican costumes dancing traditional Mexican dances!  Their faces were so sweet too!  I remember thinking they seemed so shy and yet they were smiling and dancing their little hearts out for the crowd that had gathered.  This was the year we added the CV stage and I remember there was quite a bit of activity with other dance performances and even a short play in Spanish!  I’m just so grateful that Lui saw me when he did and told me to get to the stage or I would have missed this performance.  This became one of my favorite memories of Fiesta in 2006 – seeing the sweet faces of these children and seeing my friend, Lui’s face, beaming from a distance as he watched this take place…

More to come so please come back every Friday through September 30, 2017!