Watching the Parade of Latino Nations march along the edge of Patterson Park on Sunday afternoon, Mónica Pérez felt her heart suddenly fill with pride.
The Owings Mills resident, who was born in Morelos, Mexico, saw traditional chinelos dancers, clad in bright robes with feathers atop their heads, approaching to the sound of a brass band, as horses danced to the beat in their wake.
“I was waiting for them,” she said with a smile. “I wanted to show the kids a little bit of México. The tradition, the spirit.”
The Fiesta Baltimore festival, in its third year, was held as a car caravan last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Sunday brought more than 40 vendors to the park and 50 groups to parade through Highlandtown.
In the park Sunday, cooks prepared tacos, elotes and flautas. Ice cold horchata and lemonade weren’t far away. Vendors sold clothes, jewelry, pottery and more, and health officials stood by offering COVID-19 vaccines.
For Lucia Islas, board treasurer for Nuestras Raíces Inc., the nonprofit group that organized the event, said it was a beautiful sight.
“My heart is beating so fast because this is me,” she said, gazing at the festivalgoers. “I am Lucia, whose heart beats for her community.”
It was a busy weekend for festivals in Baltimore City, as the sun shone and temperatures climbed into the 80s. The Fells Point Fun Festival filled Thames Street with live music, crafts and plenty of beer Saturday and Sunday. The Edgar Allan Poe Festival commemorated the 172nd anniversary of the famed writer’s death with two days of books, art and music in Poppleton. The Italian Heritage Festival took over Stiles and Exeter streets in Little Italy Sunday, complete with face painters, balloon artists and even a sausage-eating contest.
Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen said he found himself bouncing from one event to another all weekend. He considered Fiesta Baltimore a prime example of the Latino community’s resilience in the city.
“It’s been incredible. I mean, just the energy, the vibrancy. This is a community that during the beginning of the pandemic was very, very, very hard hit, but now has the highest COVID vaccination rate of any of our communities in Baltimore.”
According to Baltimore City’s vaccination dashboard, 71.1% of the city’s Latino residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine, compared with 53.8% of residents who did not identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino.
That’s thanks in part to the work of community groups, including the Sacred Heart of Jesus church on Conkling Street, which held a vaccination clinic for locals.
“People took care of each other. And so, now, just having this whole community come out like this and participate and show love … it feels really, really positive,” Cohen said.
Organizers are hoping that festival attendees from other backgrounds leave the event having learned about the diversity of Latin American culture, Islas said.
“In every country there is different clothing, different customs,” said Islas, who is from México. “We speak the same Spanish, but we don’t have the same customs. Everyone knows México and mariachis, but México has 32 different states.”
As dancers, singers and musicians paraded past, 8-year-old Colin Griffith III of Northeast Baltimore watched with the flag of Belize draped over his shoulders, a lollipop between his teeth. His sister, 4-year-old Ava, waved the red and blue flag in between sips of her mother’s piña colada (nonalcoholic, of course). Their father, Colin Jr., is a first-generation American, as his parents were born in Belize.
“One of the things that we’ve always tried to instill in the kids is just to have that connection there,” said Kiera Griffith, the children’s mother.
Maria Zamudio, 37, of Rosedale, watched the parade with her family, including her 2-year-old son Santiago Romero. She was inspired to see the unity on display Sunday, she said. For instance, her family enjoyed pupusas, a griddle cake often filled with beans, meat or cheese from El Salvador, even though they have Mexican heritage.
“All Latinos are united,” she said. “We must always be united like today.”