Before the hulking mass of the of the new downtown hospital, another ethnic pride event has demonstrated how Utica’s strength lies in its diversity. On Sunday at Hanna Park, the Mohawk Valley Latino Association held its 15th annual Latino Festival complete with music and food. While Covid is indeed a fear on everyone’s mind, many attended the festival which didn’t seem to be entirely that risky as a degree of social distancing was observed and vaccination services were offered.
All the way from Genesee St, you could hear the assortment of Spanish songs echoing through the area, notably Puerto Rican songs of love and home. Within a whole block of the park, the air became filled with the scents and aromas of Caribbean cuisines. Early on, the dreary sky and slight rain kind of kept everyone in their tents and few seemed terribly lively, but once the sun shined through and more showed up, the whole atmosphere became a lot more positive. Naturally the lines for the empanadas and tacos were very long, as the food itself was beyond delicious. The Tacos were exactly what you want in street food; not too fancy, flavorful, and incredibly filling.
Besides the food and music, the crowd took advantage of the many services and programs presented at the festival. Surprisingly, there seemed to be more of those types of tents than anything else, but advertising social programs and services is one of the more important reasons festivals like this are essential for the well-being of a city. Not only did people of different races and ethnicities get to see a grand celebration of Latino culture, but they also got to see all that their city can offer them in terms Voter Registration, Cancer Screening, Minority Rights Advocacy, etc. Once you see how many people learn about these services through the festival, you realize that any ethnic pride event has incredible potential to bring a city together and help many of its inhabitants.
Later on, Sonia Martinez, one of the organizers of the event spoke with the Phoenix. Sonia is originally from the Dominican Republic and has been living here in the Vally for over 30 years.
Handzel: How have you seen things develop for the Latino population in the area? Are there many more here now than when you came here 30 years ago? Are they buying more property?
Martinez: Off course, Latinos we were 3% of the population back then, now [we] are 6%. Latinos have created a workforce for themselves since job opportunities are scarce due to the language barrier. There are over 70 small Businesses that are Latino owned, restaurants, hair salons, barbershops, daycares, one groceries store, home based businesses, etc. As far as, property owners, yes, many have moved from NYC, MA, FL, Long Island, etc. Since many Latinos work and [are] owners in the construction businesses, have purchased urban renewal houses, repair them [then they] either live in the houses or rent them becoming landlords.
Sonia Martinez’s place in the story of Utica is becoming undeniable, especially when you consider that barely a year ago at a demonstration outside of Munson Williams where she gave a speech urging people to vote, the crowd shouted out, “Martinz for congress!”. That moment in and of itself is a great indicator of how successful the Latinos have been in the last 30 years, and is an even better indicator of what Utica can expect in the future from its local Latinos.