21 years & going strong
Festival de la Familia attracts thousands
Vida en el Valle
(Published Tuesday, May 1st, 2012 10:41AM)
SACRAMENTO -- Joel Contreras remembers when California's capital city lacked a major festival that helped define the Latino experience.
That was in 1991 when the practicing administrative law judge joined 25 other community leaders to create El Festival de la Familia, which celebrated its 21st edition last Sunday at Cal Expo.
"There were very few events where you could bring the entire family at that time," said Contreras. "Usually we had parents dropping off their kids at one event and their parents doing another thing, so we wanted to create something that could bring the whole family together and we wanted it to be free."
The festival features food, entertainment and children's activities including dance classes, puppet theatre, poster and art exhibits, and, dance classes.
"It was founded to build Sacramento's awareness and appreciation for Hispanic cultures, including the customs and traditions. I don't know where the inspiration came from, but I do know there wasn't an event like this before it," said festival publicist Nancy Mallory.
The festival founders, including Contreras, discussed an array of ideas for about a year and decided they wanted to create a festival different from the Cinco de Mayo events that were already taking place every year at Southside Park. They wanted to bring about awareness and appreciation of all the Latin American cultures.
"Up until that point, we had seen huge festivals take place in San Antonio, Texas and Los Ángeles but all of the cultural events that took place were around Cinco de Mayo and initially we wanted to stay away from that because we knew that the holiday only drew Mexican-Americans and we wanted to include all Latin American cultures," said Contreras.
The inaugural festival was held in Old Town Sacramento and became an instant hit. In later years, there wasn't enough parking, more generators were needed, security costs increased and space for food vendors became scarce.
The festival moved to Cal Expo.
"It was our No. 1 choice. Not only were we able to accommodate what we had, but the festival was able to expand and we had more support in terms of security and planning," said Contreras. "It was the perfect location to hold this event. When we secured it as the official location, we left behind Old Town Sacramento and looking back, it was a very good decision."
One year, the festival donated $2,500 worth of bilingual books to a local elementary school that was suffering from low test scores and had a large Latino student population. On a separate occasion, they raffled away a quinceañera dress.
The festival has coordinated events with La Galería Posada and other local dance troupes.
The festival's most unique feature has been the 9 a.m. mass that opens the event.
"The crowds that are coming to this event keep growing every year and the numbers have been high," said Contreras.
Up to 40,000 were expected for the one-day event.
Among them is Raúl Cortez, a Sacramento native who enjoys the food and entertainment.
"I come each year for the food. I have breakfast, lunch and dinner here and I always bring my family because the kids have a great time and it's a good way to celebrate a Sunday," said Cortez.
He still remembers the first time he came to the festival.
"My wife was the one that had told me about it. She had come to this event a few years ago with her mom and the kids and when she got home she said it was a fun event so I decided to come with her this year and I can't complain. I am having a great time," said Cortez, 39.
This year, attendees enjoyed entertainment on three stages from mariachi groups, salsa and folkloric dancers and afro-Cuban and Brazilian dance troupes. Children enjoyed decorating sugar skulls, face painting, pony rides, a giant slide, and even had the opportunity to take Spanish-language classes or dance classes.
Guests also enjoyed art installations by local artists, an interactive mural project, puppet theatre and puppet making station geared for children and their families and a poster art exhibit. The United States Postal Service showcased its José Ferrer stamp.
Contreras believes there is no other event like the festival.
"I can't tell you what kind of strong impression this event has made through the years. Sacramento is known nationally for this event. If we don't educate ourselves and have our communities grow and share the beauty of our Latin-American cultures--we are at risk. This event has enriched Sacramento and we want to continue living in a community that is enriched by our diversity," said Contreras.