By Ameera Steward
The Birmingham Times
The 17th annual Fiesta Birmingham festival will be held in downtown’s Linn Park on Saturday, Sept. 28 from noon until 8 p.m. and will showcase everything from Hispanic family values to Hispanic art to the best of Hispanic culture.
Charity Johnson, a former teacher at A.H. Parker High School and Lisa Garrison, a teacher at Vestavia Hills High School are co-chair volunteers.
“I saw the need to connect communities into my classroom and so I sought out Fiesta Birmingham first. . . my students saw it as an opportunity for them to practice Spanish while also…getting acquainted with Hispanic communities, Hispanic people and really be able to immerse themselves,” said Johnson, who is now a manager of program continuum for Teach for America.
Garrison said the event allows her students to cultivate not only a love of language, but a love of culture. “Not all of our kids can travel and being able to attend an event and support something like Fiesta is really important,” she said. “And [we] try to also get our students involved in giving back to the community [by] being a part as well.”
Although Johnson is no longer a Spanish teacher at Parker High School she’s encouraged Spanish teachers throughout the city schools system to let their students be a part of the festival.
“The students… are able to meet the Hispanic community in Birmingham and . . . it’s just a nice way to kind of get immersed in the culture, learn about different countries, learn about different organizations that are committed to the Latinx community as a whole,” she said.
Johnson also invited English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers and their students at Parker High School to attend.
“I think that one of the things that keeps the students who are native speakers engaged in a Spanish 1 classroom is the opportunity to share their culture, share their language, share their dialect and know that they have…a brave and safe space for them to explore what it is to be Hispanic or Latinx,” said Johnson.
Since its inception in 2003, Fiesta has served as a bridge, celebrating the culturally diverse traditions of Latin America’s various Spanish-speaking countries. Fiesta provides the opportunity for more than 15,000 patrons to journey through 20 represented countries and experience the best of Hispanic art, music, food, and dance.
Assortment Of Activities
Fiesta offers a wide assortment of activities, from storytelling to wrestling exhibitions. Music, dance, performing arts, visual arts, children’s activities, soccer, cultural education, authentic Latin food as well as community and health-related resources are all part of the event.
Garrison said the festival brings people together.
“It’s neat for Charity’s students and my students to be able to have a chance to make friends with people from not only a variety of different cultures at Fiesta but also their counterparts at other schools, have a chance to work together and make new friends which I think is important for all of our kids.”
She also wanted her students to experience something bigger than themselves.
“It’s nice for them to see what it looks like and to be involved, and to learn from others, and to experience things that maybe they wouldn’t have the opportunity to experience otherwise, whether it be the music, the dancing, the foods…they can see art, they can see handy works, they can see a wide variety of things,” said Garrison.
The Fiesta continues to grow and offers Birmingham an opportunity to learn more about the Latinx/Hispanic community but also be a part of it, said Johnson, who is volunteering for the third year.
“Not just participate but engage…I think that anyone that attends Fiesta comes out of it feeling rejuvenated, and excited, energized because there are so many opportunities to learn more about the culture, listen to the music, [and] learn a couple of dances,” she said.
The opportunity for students to interact with the Latinx/Hispanic community outside of school are slim Johnson said, “and being a volunteer requires you to be of service, so [it fosters] what I wanted in my classroom for them to be servant leaders in the future and so giving them the opportunity to build those skills.”
The festival opens “minds to what it means to be Hispanic and the pride that they have…and just to have fun,” she added.
Garrison is in her second year as a volunteer. Becoming a volunteer was important because “I like to be active and involved,” she said.
“I prefer to lead by example instead of telling my kids and my students ‘this is what you need to do,’ ‘you need to be more involved’ – if they see me involved then they’re going to follow suit and then they will hopefully follow the example set,” she said.
Garrison said she is excited to work with other teachers and “have more of our students involved and just to see how when a community comes together and everybody pulls and contributes a little bit, what an amazing thing it can grow into.”
“It’s neat to see it grow and be strong each year,” she added. “It [Fiesta] offers us diversity which is really important. It offers Birmingham the opportunity to embrace the cultures that we have here and to share it with others.”
For those who are part of the Hispanic culture, Garrison said Fiesta gives them an opportunity to be proud of their heritage and to enjoy it.
“Many of the students are far from home or are not close to where a lot of their family may be but then they can have the sights, and sounds and the flavors of things that just really warm their hearts and they can share it with others,” she said. “We all love sharing the things that make us happy and that we identify really strongly with and I think that it’s important that everybody be proud of who they are, where they come from and share the things that are unique to you and your culture.”
Expect a lot of wonderful energy on Saturday, Garrison said.
“You’re going to see a wide variety of cultures represented within the Hispanic community…there will be concerts…places where people can go through that have exhibits specific to different countries…a wide variety of foods, people, which is exciting, there is a public health area,” she said. “You’re going to have music, you’re going to have dancing, you’re going to have a lot of smiles and just the opportunity to take a little piece of being somewhere else and bringing it here to the center of Birmingham.”