The booming sounds of brass horns, deep hums of bass guitars, rapid drum beats and clattering of tambourines could be heard throughout Clinton Square on Saturday by anyone who attended the Syracuse Latino Festival.

With 13 musical acts, including Grammy-nominated Puerto Rican salsa artist Giro Lopez headlining the event, the Syracuse Latino Festival celebrated a belated 20th anniversary after a multi-year hiatus.

For Fanny Villarreal, executive director of the YWCA of Syracuse and one of the festival committee members, organizing this event had its challenges.

“The challenging part about all of this is that you need a lot of organization. It’s not easy, but if you organize everything, you can make it happen,” said Villarreal.

Originally established 30 years ago, the first festival served hamburgers behind a local school. In the following year, the Spanish Action League moved it to a park, for a larger outdoor space. Then the festival began to gain sponsors, so the budget grew enough to include the shows, vendors and equipment it is known for today.

But the festival has been on hiatus for several years, largely due to the amount of planning required for a cultural event of this magnitude. The 20th anniversary of the Syracuse Latino Festival was delayed two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This year, one of the challenges involved gathering enough sponsors and vendors to fund the $20,000 to $30,000 event.

Fortunately, Villarreal said that all the behind-the-scenes of organizing the festival came together after a year of planning.

Guests like Kiara Pizarro, who came from the West Side to attend the festival with her family, came not only to be entertained, but to celebrate Syracuse’s Hispanic community.

“It was important for us to come out today because there’s a lot going on,” Pizarro said. “We just want to unite and reunite, to be at peace again. It’s not about the violence and everything that’s going on right now. Trying to show the younger generation what it was like back then; that we are all together and that we should not be against each other.”

Villarreal said one of the main reasons they hold the Latino Festival is to bring Syracuse’s Hispanic community together.

“I think unity is very important for all of us,” Villarreal said. “For me, to be a strong community, we must be united. And I think the food, the music, the great company, the culture — all those things help bring us together.”

On either side of a plaza, Puerto Rican food trucks Callé Tropical and Mamacitas sold attendees empanadas, delicious pork and rice dishes, chicken kebabs, plantains and other cultural delicacies. More than 15 booths lined up at the festival, including sponsors, face painting and small businesses selling clothing and crystals.

Cultural booths sat in the middle of the plaza, focusing primarily on the six countries that will be highlighted during this year’s festival: Cuba, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico and Argentina.

Another of the festival’s goals is to educate people about the different cultures, behaviors, and identities within Latin America.

Leonardo Echavarria, owner of Lian Cleaning Services, helped set up the Columbia information booth with his wife and friends. Outside their booth included two posters; one with an overview of food, music, clothing and everything Columbia has to offer. The other was a poster full of colorful flowers and pictures of Medellin, where Echavarria is from.

“Our tradition is our flowers,” Echavarria said. “In Medellin, it is the city of flowers. They grow their own flowers and make those things [flower arrangements]they have it full of color, it lasts all week all over the city.”

One of the reasons Echavarria came to the festival is to connect with Syracuse’s Hispanic community.

“Seeing the city grow with the Latino community is beautiful because everybody needs everybody; we need each other. You need me, I need you, we need the government and the government needs us, so why not work together?” Echavarria said.

Throughout the event, people came to watch the entertainment and socialize with each other. At times, popular Latin hits from artists like Selena and Marc Anthony brought the crowd to their feet.

Some musical acts, including those from the Unity Street Band, would encourage attendees to stand up and march, such as during the flag ceremony, where they paraded around Clinton Square carrying a flag from a Latin American country.

The message of the flag ceremony is to celebrate unity within Syracuse’s Hispanic community.

“We’re here, this is our home here, and Onondaga County has opened their doors to all of us,” Villarreal said.

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