As Birmingham continues to move out of its segregated shadows, the city’s Hispanic population will be celebrating the strides towards human equality that have been made in the last 50 years at their annual Fiesta celebration.
This year’s event, which will be held October 5 in Linn Park, will focus on the continuing struggle for human rights in Birmingham as well as commemorating the city’s past transgressions against social equality that the whole world bore witness to in the 1960s.
Freddy Rubio, a local lawyer, is the chairman of the board for Fiesta, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to build a community-wide appreciation for the Hispanic population. Rubio got involved with Fiesta when it was dreamed up by members of the Hispanic Business Council 11 years ago. This year the celebration will focus on the struggles and triumphs for human rights in the city of Birmingham.
“We want to tie this year’s event into a celebration of the 50th year commemoration since the 1963 events here in Birmingham,” says Rubio, a Puerto Rican immigrant who moved to Birmingham 21 years ago. “About 11 years ago we came up with the idea for Fiesta, an event that celebrates Hispanic culture and makes the community at large aware of who we are and where we come from. We are not all Mexicans,” says Rubio, adding that 26 countries will be represented at the Fiesta this year, all of which offer their own color to the vast tapestry of Hispanic cultures here in Birmingham.
This year’s event, like past ones, will feature live music, dancing, cultural booths, crafts and a combination of many things Latin- American. This year, Fiesta will feature a cultural village, which will showcase some of the food, art and lifestyles from the 26 countries represented. Rubio said he hopes to prove that Hispanic culture is more than just Ricky Martin and Mexican hat dancing.
In recent years, specifically with the passage of HB56, Alabama has yet again taken center stage in the ongoing saga for human rights and equality. For many, the laws enforced on the Hispanic community with the passage of the bill in 2011 represent the modern day conflict for civil rights in Alabama.
“HB56 is certainly a human rights struggle. This year especially we want to focus on looking back. We want to see what has happened in the past here in Birmingham and look at the struggles of the Hispanic community and the similarities to the African-American struggles in the 1960s. When we have laws that might be enforced harshly on our community, we need to be watchdogs and make sure we are treated equally,” says Rubio, whose organization will be partnering with the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute this year to help commemorate the human rights progress still being made on a local level.
Samuel Pugh, the community outreach coordinator for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, has attended Fiesta the last two years and has seen the effect that racially charged laws can have on the community as a whole.
“I had an opportunity to go the last few years. When it was held at the Hoover Met two years ago, the turnout was not so great due to HB56 just going into effect. It was a very noticeable difference. People were scared to come out and a lot of Hispanics even left the city,” says Pugh.
“When they moved Fiesta back to Linn Park last year, though, it was packed. It was just beautiful,” adds Pugh, relishing in the fact that community gatherings and cultural celebrations can have such a visceral impact on a city.
Pugh agrees that the modern day parallels between the plight of the Hispanic community today and the African-American struggles in the 1960s are all too real. “The whole idea of using laws to regulate someone else’s existence is reminiscent of Jim Crow in my opinion,” says Pugh.
As for this year’s Fiesta, Rubio has high hopes for a big turnout. “We are hoping to have between 15,000 to 20,000 people show up this year. Since we’ve brought the event back to Birmingham attendance has been definitely been on the rise, which is just great to see,” says Rubio.
Fiesta is aimed at educating the community on Hispanic culture, as well as providing scholarship opportunities for underprivileged students seeking a college education, Rubio explains.
“The goal of Fiesta is to raise money for scholarships. We’ve raised over $50,000 the last few years and give out scholarships mainly through UAB, Miles College and Samford.” Admission to the event is $5 for anyone over the age of 12 and the proceeds will go toward the Fiesta scholarship fund.
With so many people, not just those with Hispanic backgrounds, involved with the event, it’s great to see the progress being made in Birmingham, Pugh says. The BCRI is even planning to open their own exhibit highlighting the Hispanic community’s fight for equality in Birmingham, perhaps due in part to the success of previous Fiestas.
“It’s just beautiful to see, all those people from different countries in one place” says Pugh. “You just have to be there.”