Flint, MI—For two days, members of the Flint Latinx community, as well as visitors from all over the state, came to Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church to eat, dance, sing and mingle in the name of Mexican culture.
More than 1000 people attended the 63rd annual Fiesta Mexicana Saturday, Sept. 11, and Sunday, Sept. 12. The two-day celebration featured live music and dance performances from local and visiting artists. Vendors sold everything from cotton candy to jewelry and hand-crafted clothing while $5000 worth of prizes were raffled off.
The Hernandez family has never owned a restaurant or managed a kitchen professionally, but for decades, grandfathers, mothers, sons and more have come together for two days per year to cook fajitas for Fiesta.
Juan Hernandez, a Flint local, has been in charge of the church’s kitchen for the last few years. Before him, his father ran it. Before his father, it was his grandfather. It’s Juan Hernandez’s hope that soon, it will be one of his children running the kitchen.
“I have been cooking here every year since I was a kid. I’ve been in Flint for 57 years and I’ve attended this church for 57 years,” he said.
Hernandez paused as he looked back on past years of Fiesta, remembering when his uncle and father ran the kitchen. Before COVID-19, he said, his family was going through about 1500 pounds of meat per weekend. This year, the number was closer to 900.
Despite the dip in attendance, Hernandez said he got most of what he wanted out of the weekend. For him, Fiesta is as much about the food you eat as it is the people you run into.
“Fiesta is where you see people you haven’t seen all year. There are a lot of people I saw today that I haven’t seen in two years because of COVID. That’s the nice thing about it. Fiesta is a good way to connect with our community. We had some friends in the past who came all the way from Texas just for this function,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez isn’t alone in this way of thinking. Other attendees like Martina Padilla, a Flint local, were happy to see Mexican culture be celebrated. Growing up away from her family’s country can be hard, Padilla said. Celebrations like Fiesta allow her to feel connected to her heritage.
“It’s a very good thing that we have this celebration. We’re so far away from Mexico so it feels incredible that we have something here dedicated to celebrating our culture. It’s beautiful,” Padilla said.
When asked what her favorite part of the celebration was, she shared a sentiment similar to Hernandez’s.
“Honestly, being able to see the same regulars who have been coming and volunteering for years is always special to me. Unfortunately, this health crisis we’re going through (COVID-19) has affected all of us but its nice to see so many people still show up,” Padilla said.
Though Fiesta did indeed experience a heavy dip in attendance, organizers for the event are confident the largest reason for that is COVID.
Aurora Sauceda, a health navigator and coordinator for Michigan United and volunteer at Fiesta, lamented the drop in attendance but counted the weekend as a win. After a year’s worth of quarantine and almost another year of precariousness, she said being able to be out and seeing people was about the largest success they could hope for.
“Just to see the people face-to-face and be able to hug each other and say hi, it’s a great feeling. I feel many of us needed that,” Aurora said.