The Mexican and Centro America Festival, Madison’s oldest and largest Latino festival, will take place on Saturday, Sept. 15, noon-9 p.m., at Warner Park.
“This is the 8th annual festival and we’re expecting it to be as big as ever,” says Alex Gillis, one of the main organizers of the event. “We’ve been doing this since 2004 with the main goal of fund-raising money for Latino students in Dane County.”
Every Sept. 15, Mexicans around the world commemorate the war of Independence, which was actually initiated in the small town of Dolores in Guanajuato Mexico on September 16, 1810. On that day Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Catholic priest from a wealthy family of Mexican-born Spaniards or criollos, rallied his parishioners to rise up in arms.
The annual event to celebrate independence is organized by the nonprofit 501c3 Festival Mexicano-Wisconsin Committee Inc. (COFEMEX, INC.) and is put together by 100 percent volunteers.
“Our core team putting this together is just 3 or 4 people, but we have a lot of volunteers helping out,” Gillis says. “We couldn’t do it without them.”
All profits will go to scholarships for Latino students in the Dane County area. This year, more than $2,500 will be granted to local students during the festival. For Gillis, it goes beyond the scholarship money.
“We have a program for the first year this year where we meet with the students every week to discuss different parts of the history of the independence of Mexico,” he says. “Upon the completion of this program they receive the $250 scholarship for school materials and other things.”
One of the outcomes of that scholarship program is that the students produce a small cultural exhibition at the event. This year for first time in its history, the celebration will feature an outdoors bilingual exhibition on José María Morelos, a Mexican Roman Catholic priest and revolutionary rebel leader who led the Mexican War of Independence movement.
The festival will also have folk dances featuring groups from Rockford, Watertown, and Madison and will feature more than 15 live performances by Mexican bands playing all kinds of music. “This year, we’re having even more kids’ activities including a climbing wall, prizes, piñatas, and all types of fun stuff,” Gillis says.
Of course, there will be delicious Mexican food at the event with a variety of Milwaukee- and Madison-area Mexican restaurants serving enchiladas, tacos, burritos, rice and beans and more. Gillis stresses that the event is for more than just people of Mexican-American descent — it’s for the whole community.
“We try to have as much bilingual content as we can at the event,” Gillis says. “The main program will be bilingual. We want this to be open to the whole community and hopefully everybody feels very comfortable at the event. To be quite honest, what we’ve been seeing at the festival is that even many of our [Mexican] kids aren’t speaking a lot of Spanish and they don’t know enough about Mexican history. So, it’s in our interest that they — along with others that don’t come from Latino families — learn about our history, our traditions, and our culture, too.”
COFEMEX is a non-profit whose main objective is to organize the Annual Mexico and Centro America Independence Festival and to support the community through scholarships for Latino students.
“I’m hoping that the festival helps to promote the knowledge of our history and our culture to more and more people,” Gillis says. “There are a lot of Mexican people in our community and I think it’s important to celebrate our history and our successes.
“The event is also an opportunity for people in the community to showcase their talents — people who may normally not have\ a chance to do so,” Gillis adds. “There is a lot of empowerment around the idea of so many volunteers coming together for a good cause — to promote the culture and to help the students.”
Mexican and Centro America Festival, Madison’s oldest and largest Latino Festival, will take place on Saturday, Sept. 15, noon-9 p.m. at Warner Park.
For more information about this event, contact Alex Gillis at (608) 520-5616 or email@example.com. You can also visit the web site www.mexicanfestival.org