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¡Viva Latino! Heat wave doesn’t slow Festival Betances

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
¡Viva Latino! Heat wave doesn’t slow Festival Betances
OrigiNation dancers perform during the Festival Betances parade. PHOTO: CELINA COLBY

Last weekend, the annual Festival Betances in the South End’s Villa Victoria continued a tradition of more than 50 years celebrating Boston’s Latino culture. The two-day festival brings together an estimated 3,000 multicultural guests every year to watch a parade, listen to music by local and visiting artists, and enjoy traditional Latinx foods.

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley waves a Puerto Rican flag during the Festival Betances parade. PHOTO: CELINA COLBY

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley waves a Puerto Rican flag during the Festival Betances parade. PHOTO: CELINA COLBY

The festival is named for Ramón Emeterio Betances, a Puerto Rican patriot and medical doctor who many consider to be the father of the Puerto Rican independence movement. Vanessa Calderón-Rosado, CEO of Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción, the organization that hosts Festival Betances, says the celebration is integral to the local community spirit.

“It helps us celebrate our culture, heritage, history and our contributions. It’s a great moment to celebrate the Latino arts,” says Calderón-Rosado. “It also provides an opportunity for us to build community, to bring people together, to reaffirm our value in the neighborhood and in the city.”

Estrellas Tropicales performers dance in the Festival Betances parade. PHOTO: CELINA COLBY

Estrellas Tropicales performers dance in
the Festival Betances parade. PHOTO: CELINA COLBY

During the opening celebrations, Mayor Martin Walsh, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, at-large City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George and others addressed the crowd about the importance of celebrating diverse experiences.

Calderón-Rosado says the festival is as much an educational tool as it is a celebration. “I think it’s important to invite others to come, enjoy and learn from the wonderful talent in Latino culture,” she says. “And that includes culinary aspects, arts, music, to build that bridge to welcome others to enjoy our culture with us.”

National African Community Organization representatives walk in the Festival Betances parade. PHOTO: CELINA COLBY

National African Community Organization representatives walk in the Festival Betances parade. PHOTO: CELINA COLBY

The celebration went on despite the heat wave, though the parade route was shortened. But the challenging weather didn’t stop the famous greased pole competition, the youth performances or the large crowds from breaking it down at the main stage dance floor.

This year the festival’s music had a special focus. “We’re very excited to be able to showcase the talent of Latinas in music,” says Calderón-Rosado. “All performers — at least the lead performers of the band — are female.” This female-fueled lineup included local performers like Zayra Pola, Gilenny Gi and current Berklee student Karla Rivera. The headlining performer Gisselle came up to Boston from Puerto Rico to perform her signature Dominican Merengue style at the festival.

Ultimately, Calderón-Rosado says she hopes festival attendees enjoy themselves and feel comfortable in the safe space. She says, “I hope people felt connected to their culture and their community. I hope they walk away with lots of joy and able to reaffirm their cultural values and their identity.”

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