By Shianna Gibbons
The first-ever ¡Hola Fest! took place in Wean Park near the Covelli Center on Sept. 23, the second weekend into Hispanic Heritage Month.
The ¡Hola Fest! event highlighted and celebrated Hispanic Or Latin American [Hola] culture and was sponsored by the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley, Youngstown Flea and Thrive Mahoning Valley.
The event kicked off with a parade at noon, and festivities continued throughout the day with a pageant, live music entertainment and vendors.
Lisette Encarnacion, media and marketing coordinator for ¡Hola Fest!, said the event is to celebrate Hispanic culture in Youngstown.
“It’s an awesome way to spread the word of how big the Hispanic community is embedded in Youngstown. It’s important for us to know that [Hispanic heritage] exists and there’s organizations to be able to help them get through life,” Encarnacion said.
Before ¡Hola Fest! there was a Spanish Festival, but ¡Hola Fest! is different because it brings together different Hispanic ethnicities and identities, Encarnacion said.
“The Spanish Festival was celebrating Hispanic culture, but it was deemed [for] one specific heritage,” Encarnacion said “¡Hola Fest! is really bringing everybody together, whether you’re Caribbean, Peruvian, Columbian, Hispanic or from Spain.”
David Labra, entertainment lead for ¡Hola Fest!, said not too many people are aware of the size of the Hispanic community in Youngstown or around the world.
“[¡Hola Fest!] is a great way to bring the Hispanic community together,” Labra said. “Some people don’t realize how much of the world Hispanic and Latin populations kind of cover. People can kind of see the diversity within Hispanics themselves and the event is a good representation of that.”
Encarnacion said the event provokes nostalgia for Youngstown’s history.
“Coming to celebrate is also nostalgic at the same time because in past times, even before 10 years ago, we’re talking about the 1970s, Hispanic culture was always celebrated in the city of Youngstown,” Encarnacion said. “Before it was on a smaller scale, then a bigger scale, and now, we’re able to bring together all the Latin communities to celebrate on a larger, modern scale that Hispanics support you and we support them.”
The parade started at the corner of East Front Street and South Avenue and followed Walnut Street all the way to the Covelli Center Entrance where the main event was located.
After the parade, a cultural pageant was held for children ages 3 to 18.
There were also three different live performing bands: Conjunto Sabroso, Grupo Fuego and Sammy Deleon.
Labra said there were over 40 different vendors at ¡Hola Fest! that sold food, jewelry or representing a specific Hispanic heritage.
Labra and Encarnacion said the event took months of preparation and collaboration to pull together an event this large in Youngstown.
“So many folks have put a lot of their lives into this, especially over the last few months. So, [I’m] just so appreciative of all those people [that were] willing to make this event happen,” Labra said.
Labra said ¡Hola Fest! Youngstown is in the process of getting its 501(c) designation to continue celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with the ¡Hola Fest! event.