6th Annual Fiesta en el Rio comes to Peoria on July 28th
July 28th will bring salsa rhythms and the sizzle of Latin food to Peoria’s riverfront as Fiesta en el Rio makes its sixth appearance.
Sponsored by Peoria Hispanics, Fiesta en el Rio brings live entertainment, games for all ages, and a spectrum of traditional Hispanic food. “Fiesta en el Rio offers a place for families to come and have a good time,” says Cesar Vargas, founder and secretary of the organization.
Peoria Hispanics, whose mission is to “promote the Latino culture in Peoria and the surrounding areas,” has been offering cultural experiences for families since the eighties. Sixteen years ago, Peoria Hispanics would organize community activities around September 16 in Glen Oak Park Amphitheatre. “Over the years, the event has changed, it has grown and it has moved to the riverfront area,” Vargas says.
Fiesta combines the best of all worlds for young children, teens, and adults.
At the celebration, kids have a designated area for play. There, they can thrill in the blindfolded piñata smashing attempts or let their imaginations dictate the designs of the available face painting. Young children also have the opportunity to try their hand at arts and crafts.
Meanwhile, parents and young adults can listen and dance to the beats of salsa, bachata, cumbia, and many other different genres of Latin music. Though the live music is a major source of entertainment, Peoria Latin Vibe, a Miami/Cuban style salsa dance team, will be performing. Younger members of the group, Peoria Latin Vibe Jr., will also demonstrate their up and coming dance talents. The youngsters are choreographed by Peoria Latin Vibe.
These performers give a voice to Latin culture, which has experienced a boom in recent years as more immigrants come to the United States.
Diversity is becoming a defining characteristic of American culture. About five percent of Peoria residents are Hispanic; Fiesta en el Rio has become an outlet for cultural expression. As Vargas puts it, “Our representation is important; we also have a voice [in the community].”
However, in a country where all cultures can be easily assimilated especially among the youth, Vargas understands the difficulty in reaching this age group.
“We hope the entertainment we have planed this year reaches and interests people of all ages,” Vargas says.
Hispanic high schoolers may have an incentive for attending the festival. The Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LACLA) will be selling cold beverages. Profits from these sales will go to the Jose Madrigal scholarship, which gives two Hispanic students a one thousand dollar scholarship to attend ICC.
“I love working with the community,” Vargas enthuses.
Vargas and Peoria Hispanics hope to reach out to Hispanic communities across central Illinois such as Monmouth, Depew, Galesburg, and Bloomington. With a broader community, there is a greater opportunity to “express ourselves through food, music, and dance,” Vargas adds.
Expression comes through months of planning even the smallest detail. Since late March, Peoria Hispanics has been preparing and organizing Fiesta en el Rio. At the meetings the group discussed possibilities for entertainment, gastronomy, and appropriate yet enjoyable activities for young children.
Fiesta en el Rio isn’t the only cultural activity sponsored and organized by Peoria Hispanics. Year round this group is working to follow their mission: promoting Latin culture in the greater Peoria area. On June 23, Noche de Fiesta was available to all Peoria community members. Salsa lessons were available, afterwards free dancing took place. For those interested in immersing themselves in Latin culture, there are salsa lessons (followed by free dancing) every first and third Friday of each month. It costs six dollars to attend the event held at the Contemporary Arts Center on Water Street. They also show Latin movies on a monthly basis.
Vargas hopes Fiesta en el Rio will bring the Hispanic community closer together.
“We hope to have more attendance this year,” he says. “Every year we try to make the festival better than the last.”
Many attendees revel in dancing to the rhythms of salsa, cumbia, and other traditional dances; dancing is vital to having a great time in Latin culture.
Fiesta en el Rio offers a family friendly environment. Although this event is more directed to the Hispanic community, all Peorians are welcome to come and gain a unique cultural experience.