Feature photo by Luz Chavez

Last weekend, Chicago held its first-ever festival celebrating Cuban heritage and culture. Saturday and Sunday, August 7th and 8th, Riis Park on Narragansett and Fullerton played host to Festival Cubano!

From 10AM to 10PM, families set up base camp under one of the many trees on Riis’ beautiful grounds. This way, they had somewhere to sit and eat, play, listen to the music, and people watch. Along the concrete path near the entrance of the park, vendors of food and Cuban paraphernalia set up shop, yelling at passers-by to try their products. Hard to say “no” to the piña coladas served in vessels made of the pineapple they were made from (and one of those awesome mini-umbrellas, too).

Cuba’s colorful and savory dishes were represented by Señor Pan, 90 Miles, and Cafe Cubano. Among the meals they offered: lechon con congri y yucca, Cuban tamales, croquettas de jamon, empanadas, medianoches, and the ever-classic Cuban sandwich. Other Latino cultures were represented, too. Mexican and Puerto Rican delicacies were also for sale.

Vendors of non-food items slung jewelry, soaps, incense, shirts, flags, and any other item they managed to print the Cuban flag on. One surprise was a designer named Oliver Tiongco. His jewelry was on display, and he offered great deals on his handmade creations. Earring ran for $5 and necklaces made of found items and stones went for $10.

A large bandstand to one side of the park had quite a few bookings. Albita, Rey Ruiz, Anissa Gathers (star of Celia: The Musical), and TONS of other bands, dance groups, and djs played the main stage. The grassy field in front of the stage was perfect for picnicking families and dancers alike.

There are only two bones I had to pick with the festival organizers. First, there was no booze. I am not sure what the reason was. Perhaps the licence was too expensive or maybe the park does not allow alcohol. Either way, a frosty daiquiri would have made the experience a full one. Second, I wish the live music had started earlier. It wasn’t until the evening that the first live performer went on stage. Us early-birds missed the worm.

Overall, a wonderful experience! I look forward to next year’s gathering. Hopefully, Festival Cubano was as successful as it seemed.

Photos by Rebecca Bretana

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