The Fiesta on Wells — an annual celebration of the arts, culture and contributions made by Latinos — is back this weekend following a year hiatus due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The event will feature music, dance performances and various Latin-American foods in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday on Wells Avenue between Arroyo and Burns streets.
According to Reno Councilman Oscar Delgado, who helped sponsor the event, it’s a chance for families disconnected from relatives, friends and other loved ones last year to come together.
Roughly 85 vendors are expected to participate, and organizers estimate 4,000 people will attend.
“The event is something I feel is growing year by year,” Delgado said. “It’s definitely an event that is celebrating all Latino and Hispanic cultures across our region. There’s more diversity here in Washoe County as shown from the recent numbers that came out from the census.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Hispanic and Latinx populations are expanding throughout the country. The 2020 census report released last month showed 62.1 million people identified as Hispanic or Latino, making up 18% of the total population.
In Nevada, the Latino population grew by 24.4% since 2010, making up 28.7% of the state’s population.
“It shows that, again, we’re such a large part of the community,” Delgado said. “People want to feel a sense that they’re represented in the community; that’s there’s pride here; that Latinos are fundamentally part of American history and the community here.”
Delgado said the event is all about sharing stories among each other. He said he believes it’s important that residents support local nonprofit organizations and businesses — not just during the event this weekend or during the month of September, but throughout the year.
Tracing its origins: What is Hispanic Heritage Month?
Sept. 15 marked the start of Hispanic Heritage Month, which celebrates the lives, culture and contributions of the millions of Hispanics and Latinos in the U.S. The month is celebrated through Oct. 15 and recognizes Hispanic leaders and historical moments.
Ana María Cavallione, co-organizer of the Fiesta on Wells, said several Latin-American countries celebrate national holidays in September.
Sept. 15 marks the anniversary of independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Additionally, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on Sept. 16 and 18, respectively.
Originally, Hispanic Heritage Month was observed for only a week. In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a bill designating the week of Sept. 15 as National Hispanic Heritage Week.
But in 1987, Rep. Esteban Torres of California decided a week wasn’t enough. So, he submitted a bill to expand Hispanic Heritage Week to a month.
“We want the public to know that we share a legacy with the rest of the country, a legacy that includes artists, writers, Olympic champions, and leaders in business, government, cinema and science,” Torres said. according to the House’s History, Art and Archives office.
Torres’ bill died, but a year later Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois submitted a similar bill, and then-President Ronald Reagan signed it into law on Aug. 17, 1988.
“I think we have to take advantage of any instance to celebrate ourselves as Latinos, as a culture, as diversity, as colors, as foods and as traditions, but without necessarily using the term ‘pride,’” Cavallione said, adding pride would indicate a sense of superiority.
She said we all need to respect those who come from different backgrounds.
Latinos contribute in every aspect
Mario de la Rosa, director of Latino Arte and Culture which organizes Fiesta on Wells, said the pandemic has really highlighted Latino workers as essential, many of whom kept working through the statewide shutdown last year.
He said many more work in agricultural fields, restaurants, hospitals and clinics, at schools and in other jobs within the service industry.
Still more serve in the military and “have sacrificed their lives for this country,” Rosa said in Spanish.
“There are many Latinos creating art and sharing our culture, but they’re not well established,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons our organization was born. We saw there was a lack of representation of Latinos, and there was a lack of artistic and cultural events … organized by Latinos.”
Delgado described the business corridor on Wells Avenue as a hub for the Latino community.
“My history with the Wells business corridor takes me back to my elementary school days when my dad had a business there renting and selling VHS tapes,” Delgado said. “Even way back then, the Wells corridor was kind of the place you went when you wanted something associated with Latino community, and that was from foods to candies to movies to cultural things and art.
“It was a place where people felt comfortable going,” he said. “It was a place that people knew … and it continues to be.”
Rosa said many Latino businesses along Wells Avenue have suffered from the economic impact brought on by pandemics.
“Many have closed, many have had to lay off their employees and not all have received help, unfortunately,” Rosa said. “So, the Fiesta on Wells is an opportunity for many of them to restart their businesses and continue to improve the economy.
“Hopefully, people will come to Fiesta on Wells and support them and consume their products.”
Marcella Corona is a reporter covering local underrepresented communities in Northern Nevada. Support her work by subscribing to RGJ.com.