Fiesta del Sol, the largest Latino festival in the Midwest, began as a small block-party in 1972 to celebrate the Pilsen Neighbors Community Council’s (PNCC) commitment to building Benito Juarez Community Academy. Today, Fiesta del Sol is an annual four-day event hosted by PNCC to honor its accomplishments and to raise money for community development.
The sound of the festival can be heard several streets away, and the glow of entertainment is visible behind the buildings that line it. Musicians and DJs play on different stages along the stretch of the festival, and crowds of people of all ages dance and sing along with each other beside tables filled with strobing light sticks, shiny Lucha Libre wrestling masks and technicolor rosaries that line the street.
Streams of people crisscross intersections blocked off for the event as people hop from one booth to the next. A mixture of smells waft from food vendors’ smoking grills preparing foods like tacos, gorditas, enchiladas, churros, quesadillas and other traditional and nontraditional foods. People line up for yards past the vendors’ registers, while carts selling an assortment of desserts roll by ringing their bells.
Alcohol and tobacco are banned from Fiesta del Sol to make it a family-oriented affair with plenty of activities for children. Rides and a variety of fun houses and games are spread across the festival, and smiling parents watch their children scream on mini roller coasters and spinning, swinging rides, with lines of antsy kids waiting their turn below.
While the festivities make up the bulk of the carnival, PNCC combines fun with services dedicated to improving the lives of neighborhood residents and immigrants. The organization aims to work with and train leaders to empower everyone in the community to bring about change. Their key areas of focus are education and immigration reform and the development of workforce and health care systems. Services are offered like the “Civil Rights of Immigrants,” which provides free legal advice and workshops to educate immigrants about the citizenship process. The “Keeping Health Campaign” has a booth focused on public health and is set up to provide free screenings and exams, along with resources and information to promote healthy lifestyles.
PNCC’s services are not limited to the huge event. Preceding Fiesta del Sol is a College Fair organized to bring colleges and universities out to supply students with information and resources regarding application processes, academic programs and tuition. It also offers guidance to undocumented students looking to further their education. The Housing Resource Pavilion is another resource available the weekend before Fiesta del Sol, with information about affordable housing and housing opportunities, legal assistance and advice.
Fiesta del Sol is one of the country’s largest Latino celebrations, but it goes far beyond an exciting weekend carnival. Pilsen throbs with Latino culture, and the festival brings it, and the conviviality signified by the PNCC’s efforts, to the attention of the rest of Chicago and the Midwest.