Ever since Aldermen Danny Solis forced festival organizers in 1997 to move the Fiesta from its traditional location along Blue Island Ave. to Cermak, it seemed that ever year I would hear more people complain the Fiesta “just wasn't what it used to be.” Indeed the wide open straight away of Cermak is probably better in terms of pedestrian traffic flow for a festival that draws over a million attendees ever year, but the move certainly diminished the neighborhood feel of the event.
I remembering attending the Fiesta in the early 90’s before I became a Pilsen resident, and getting lost in what seemed an overcrowded labyrinth of booths, food stalls and music stages. There was a unique frenetic energy about the festival in those days, and often art galleries and business along the route, some on the second or third floor of classic Pilsen tenement buildings, would open their doors to Fiesta visitors. But what bothered me most about the Fiesta in recent years is how many booths were snatched up by chain grocery stores, banks, cell phone providers and drug companies handing out samples. It seemed every year, more and more of the festival was turned over to corporate advertising booths. On top of that these booths often went un-manned for much of the festival, almost like vacant, abandon buildings, providing no purpose but creating a sense of emptiness. At the same time that commercial advertising took over more and more festival ground, local community organizations found it harder to participate. Last I checked (about 3 years ago) the price for a booth for a non-profit was $800, well beyond the budget of organizations like PERRO (Pilsen Environmental Rights & Reform Organization) and NALACC (National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities).
But somehow this year seemed a bit different. Sure, the corporate advertising booths were still there, but it seemed to me there were less of them and they somehow seemed a bit less noticeable. Some, like the State Farm sponsored batting cages, at least had a purpose beyond purely advertising. What I really noticed were the number of areas set aside (or at least taken over for) dancing. The most successful being the “House of Sol” at the west end of the Fiesta near Loomis. On Sunday night there were dozens packed together dancing and sweating to some of the best house beats I have heard in years. The local artist’s booth with Casa Aztlán’s resident artist Roberto Valadez and his work featured prominently at its center was another big draw for passersby and seemed to bring back the true spirit of the Fiesta. Their also seemed to be more activities for children than I remember in recent years.
I still think the festival organizers could do a better job encouraging local community organizations to participate. The most obvious way to do this would be to lower the fees charged to non-profits. I know that the Fiesta is ultimately a fundraiser for the Pilsen Neighbors Community Council and that the organization of the Fiesta is quite costly. I understand that is why booths have to be rented for big money to corporate sponsors (though they should NOT be used to advertise for corporations which harm the community like Midwest Generation – operator of the Fisk coal fired power plant on Cermak). But I think festival organizers could create a better balance between local community groups and corporate interest. All that aside, I found the 2009 Fiesta to be the best I have experienced in a number of years.
Below are some pics from the festival. The rest of the collection (70 photos in all) can be found at the following link...