On Saturday, September 16, 2023, which happened to coincide with Mexican Independence Day, we were honored to kick off Hispanic Heritage Month by welcoming roughly 3,000 people to Cascade Plaza for an exuberant celebration of Latin cultures. Although this was the third annual iteration of the festival presented by Proyecto RAICES, this was the first year it took place downtown, and the first year DAP was a partner in presenting the event, along with North Hill Community Development Corporation and the City of Akron.
Food, Performances & More
One of the central focuses of the festival was emphasizing the diversity of cultures that span Latin America—making the general population aware that Latino people do not come from a single nation or single culture. There is nuance and variety; the cultures cannot be generalized. To this end, Proyecto RAICES set up information booths about different Latin American countries that have representation within their organization—Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico.
The day was full of color. Papel picado was strung between light poles; paper flowers adorned tents, signs, handrails, poles, and the plaza’s large swings; Guatemalan alfombras sat at the feet of the plaza’s Don Drumm sculpture; people carried the flags of their countries; performers were adorned in vibrant dresses; and visitors danced with flowers in their hair and drinks in their hands. The festival began promptly at 3 pm, but people were on the plaza tossing cornhole bean bags, kicking soccer balls, and enjoying the pre-event music well in advance of the official start time. There was a palpable buzz to the day that began during setup and continued through tear down. It was infectious and light.
As the event began rolling, cultural performances drew a robust crowd of onlookers spanning generations. Folk dancers featuring Azteca Guadalupano dazzled the audience, as did classical mariachi singer Mariana Gonzalez. In between acts, DJ Coraly kept the party going and the people dancing, and stilt walkers interacted with visitors. The evening ended with an outstanding Latin jazz performance by Sammy de Leon y su orquestra from 7:30 to 9 pm.
Food selections included a variety of cuisine of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Venezuelan, and Peruvian origin. Tacos, empanadas, street corn, tres leches cake, and fresh fruit with tajín were only a few among the options for people to enjoy, prepared by local mobile restaurants including Rocoto Foods, Cha’firo, El Patrón Tequilería & Cuisine, Panchitas Mobile Grill, Pedro’s Taqueria, La Rosita Snacks, Tumbao58, La Reina Boricua, and Mex in’ Peru. DAP sold draft and canned beer, seltzer, and specialty margaritas from The Shed.
As people enjoyed their food, they also shopped the wares of a wide array of vendors, which included Artesanias Latinas; Pinatas, Crafts & More by Patty; LiRo Apparel & Accessories; Ttemud; Haus of Sin Cosmetics; Mexican Artisanal; The Suite; Ali’s Artesania Taina; Elizabeth’s Bookshop; and Lepley & Co.
Another highlight for many was the dedicated children’s area, where kids had the opportunity to make their own papel picado and paper flowers, play oversized yard games, have their faces painted, and take turns at whacking a piñata every hour.
In March, as Proyecto RAICES began to conceptualize plans for this year’s event, they reached out to us. What followed was a partnership that resulted in immeasurable joy as an entire community felt the significance of having a festival downtown in honor of their cultures—in the center of the city,. During a time when many individuals in the Latin American community report feeling unwelcome or concerned about their place in the US, people expressed gratitude for this recognition and celebration.
We are grateful to Proyecto RAICES for entrusting us with the tasks of planning and executing this event alongside them and North Hill CDC. The Third Annual Akron Latin Festival turned out to be a vibrant celebration drawing people of all ages and backgrounds, a day for people to let loose, have fun, and feel at home downtown. We look forward to continuing the tradition next year.
The 3rd Annual Akron Latin Festival was presented by Proyecto RAICES, the North Hill Neighborhood Development Corporation, Downtown Akron Partnership, and the City of Akron. Additional support was provided by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Ohio Arts Council, GAR Foundation, Akron Community Foundation, the County of Summit ADM Board, Goodyear, AxessPointe Community Health Centers, Bridgestone, the Interbelt Nite Club, Bartell, Georgalas & Juarez, LPA, and the Akron Children's Museum.