El Pueblo, Inc., a non-profit statewide Latino advocacy organization, nominates its Fiesta del Pueblo volunteers, whose dedication and loyalty is vital to the coordination of the two-day cultural event. La Fiesta del Pueblo began as an all-volunteer effort in 1994 when a small group of diverse individuals got together to organize a Latin American festival. The effort was so successful and came at such a needed time, that by the next year its volunteers launched a full-fledged non-profit. Today the non-profit is a leading organization dedicated to strengthening the Latino community of North Carolina through advocacy, education, and the promotion of cross-cultural understanding. La Fiesta is now in its eleventh year and continues to bring Latinos and non-Latinos together to enjoy Latin America food, music, traditional dancing, arts and crafts, children’s games, and educational affairs.
The festival was created out of the need to connect the rapidly growing Latino population of North Carolina with the larger, more-established communities across the state. These new immigrants who are making such an economic impact on our state often speak little English when they arrive and encounter numerous barriers upon entering their new home in the United States. Resources available to most Americans such as food, shelter, education, civic participation, and health care are denied and with such a difficult beginning in this country, many Latinos have found support and strength through the rich Hispanic cultural networks and communities around them.
In its first year, La Fiesta del pueblo attracted 2,000 participants. By 2003, over 60,000 people attended, suggesting both the incredible growth of North Carolina’s Latino community as well as the increasing interest in cross-cultural understanding. But perhaps even more impressive than the number of attendees is the dedicated group of nearly 600 volunteers who come together every year to make La Fiesta possible.
Our volunteers begin planning for La Fiesta over 8 months before the event. A volunteer kick-off is organized five months before the festival to sign up volunteers and create the year’s volunteer committees. And even after La Fiesta del Pueblo, volunteers spend over two months evaluating the festival’s success, thanking stakeholders and sponsors, and getting ready for the next year. Although the event itself is only two days, the planning and mobilization of volunteers required is a yearlong process. Every year in September, as soon as one walks into La Fiesta, our volunteers can be seen hard at work selling soda, picking up trash, directing parking, coordinating the four performance stages, offering health screenings, and even co-chairing the festival itself, Men, women, and children from all backgrounds, Latino and non-Latino, even former drug addicts from a non-profit recovery center, are behind the scenes (and in front!) making La Fiesta happen. It is truly an event that connects people from all walks of life.
Our volunteers return year after year and many of the committee co-chairs have been with La Fiesta since its inception. Some of our volunteers who chair the Fiesta committees devote over 15 hours a week in the months leading up to La Fiesta del Pueblo. Our Fiesta co-chairs work from 7am until midnight in the days leading up to La Fiesta as well as during the event. And one of our volunteers even pays out of his own pocket for an internationally renowned clown from Puerto Rico to perform!
The volunteers get involved for many reasons-from a desire to keep a particular form of cuisine alive to a passion for learning about other cultures-but non of them get active to get recognition. Indeed, Fiesta volunteers are the first to highlight the other aspects of Fiesta-sponsors who provide the funding, the artists who perform, and the food vendors who cook. We are so grateful to our volunteers whose sacrifice and dedication is immeasurable and instrumental to La Fiesta.
The loyalty of the community that we work with is only one way to measure the impact of La Fiesta. Many of the approximately 200 organizations that participate in La Fiesta do so in order to learn about Latinos. The festival has served as an innovative tool to integrate Latino issues into the “mainstream” North Carolina population. Further, La Fiesta offers capacity building to its vendors, providing training sessions for the first-time Fiesta participants and allowing family-run businesses to expand their exposure and market.
La Fiesta del Pueblo is an event that actively engages and connects a diverse group of volunteers, performers from all over the United States and Latin America, and festival attendees in an opportunity to strengthen not only the Latino community but also the greater communities of North Carolina and America.