Festival Betances comes home
Festival Betances has been bringing the hip-swishing beats of salsa music, the fragrant scent of empanadas and the action-packed greasy pole competition to the Villa Victoria neighborhood for decades. After transitioning online during the COVID-19 shutdowns, the festival is back in person this year and bigger than ever.
The annual party is put on by nonprofit Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción and is named for Puerto Rican patriot Ramón Emeterio Betances to celebrate his medical contributions to Latin America, the Caribbean and the United States. But what began as a Puerto Rican pride festival has quickly ballooned into a celebration of Latinidad across New England. The in-person festival has regularly drawn more than 3,000 people and 60,000 people from all over the globe attended the virtual festival during the pandemic.
“It’s a long going tradition. We’re close to the 50th festival in Boston and every year is full of energy,” says IBA arts program director JuanCarlos González. “People are aching to get out of the Zoom call. We’re humans, we like that interaction, we just want to dance.”
And dance everyone shall. This year the festival is themed “From Bomba to Reggaeton!” and it celebrates music ranging from the classics like bomba and salsa to the more contemporary styles like reggaeton. In addition to representing a wide swath of Latinx culture and history, these musical styles also illustrate how multi-generational the festival is, welcoming members of the community at all ages and backgrounds.
“It’s about the dances and the colors and all this mix of different races and nationalities,” says González. “We have people from Santo Domingo, Cuba, Ecuador, you name it, all over Latin America that live in Boston. But they come to this community and become as one.”
The musical lineup this year features a mix of local artists and bigger names including Juan Nieves, Frankie Ruiz Jr., dubbed “the son of salsa,” Sharina Sanabria and her Guajiba ensemble, and young Regaeton artists Enyel C & Gyanma. The party kicks off at noon with the annual parade, which this year boasts almost 300 participants. In addition to the music the festival will include kids’ activities, food and local business vendors and the greased pole competition.
“I feel there’s no other joy than seeing the community merging and becoming one and having a good time,” says González. “It feels like one of those fragrances that you put in little, tiny bottles and mix all these things and an amazing perfume comes out, that’s Festival Betances.”
Festival Betances will be held at Plaza Betances in Villa Victoria on July 16, beginning at 12 p.m.