Fiestaval 2019

Dancers take the stage holding the flags of their respective home countries. The Latin American community makes up the largest percentage of Bowling Green’s minority population said city commissioner Dana Brown.

Cars were lined up and down Clay Street when I arrived at the “BG Fiestaval” on a humid Saturday evening. Music could be heard, and a smell of food filled the air.

Lee sobre la experiencia de Griffin Fletcher, editor de features, en Fiestaval aquí.

The Fiestaval — a combination of the Spanish word “fiesta” and English word “festival” — is a two-day celebration of Mexican Independence Day, Sept. 16, set up in the parking lot behind La Perlita Mexican restaurant and store. It’s been an annual tradition in Bowling Green since 2016.

I saw women in flowing, colorful dresses perform traditional Mexican dances atop a central stage as children ran around happily, playing games and getting balloon animals. A variety of Hispanic vendors located in tents sold freshly made, authentic Mexican food and goods nearby.

Among the foods offered were tacos, tortas, gorditas, fresh fruit sorbet and tamales. They even sold hamburgers and fries for those feeling less adventurous.

However, what caught my eye most was an offering known as a Mexican fruit cup: a large cup filled with fresh fruit of your choice and topped with a chile lime seasoning. It was a unique spin on eating fruit and consisted of an explosion of sweet, salty and spicy flavors.

While I sat down to dig in, I observed the many people around me. It struck me as a celebration of Hispanic culture not so easily defined. 

Though the term “Hispanic” entails all people of Spanish descent, that does not mean all Hispanics share the same traditions and culture. Despite this, an event like Fiestaval presents an opportunity for a community comprised of various cultures to connect and celebrate what is shared — a desire for greater Hispanic representation in the United States.

That was exactly why Nathan Ortiz, a WKU alumnus, first organized the Fiestaval.

It started as a Cinco De Mayo celebration, but Ortiz decided his community needed more. He wanted people of Bowling Green to see and notice the city’s flourishing Mexican community, which has been around for decades.

“We got a lot of inspiration from the international festival, but we wanted something specifically for our community,” Ortiz said. “Ultimately our goal is exposure.”

The Fiestaval inspired a heavy sense of community and made me feel welcomed to enjoy a culture with which I’m largely unfamiliar. To see so many different people come together to enjoy authentic Mexican food and dance showed maybe we aren’t so different after all.

Going into the Fiestaval, I was unsure of what to expect. Although I am non-Hispanic, I did not feel out of place, and I appreciated the opportunity to experience a new side of Bowling Green.

You can bet I’ll be back next year.

Features reporter Kelley Holland can be reached at 270-745-6291 and kelley.holland872@topper.wku.edu.