Hispanic Heritage Fiesta de las Americas show diversity of SF Latin communities

Fiesta de las Americas brought thousands of people to the heart of San Francisco's Latino Cultural District in the Mission District on Saturday.

Residents came to the Fiesta from an array of Latin American backgrounds, kicking off the first weekend of Hispanic Heritage Month.

"My grandparents migrated from Nicaragua when they were 18-19, married, and they had my dad and aunt," said Ariana Montiel, of Daly City who was with a half dozen friends, many wearing shirts that said Nicaragua on them.

"We all have our different things. The music is different, the food is very good and very different too," said Nohemi Livingston of San Mateo, also a Nicaraguan-American.

The non-profit Calle 24 helped organize the Fiesta, which stretched down 24th Street for seven blocks with four stages, low-rider car displays and local vendor booths. They said they worked hard to show the diversity of cultures with the music performances on stage.

"It's the rainbow of human experience in all the countries, so we try to bring that representation to the agenda," said Bill Martinez, the stage manager for Calle 24.

Saturday's Fiesta also coincides with history, Sept. 16 marks Mexican Independence Day and the Independence Days of five other Latin American countries – Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua – just one day earlier.

"In remembrance to the Independence Day for Mexico, but not only Mexico, it's Las Americas, you know all the Central America, El Salvador, Guatemala, all those countries," said Maricela Medina of San Francisco, "I love to see the colors, every one representing our culture. It's beautiful."

Outside the hair salon Sol y Luna, a man named Humberto sang passionate songs to people passing by.

His friend, Luis Pastelil, is the owner of the Sol y Luna Hair Salon. He and other Mission District residents and business owners say that diversity of Latin American cultures is what makes the neighborhood so important and unique.

"Makes me very proud of the community because we have all over the world here at the salon, we have Mexican, Salvadoran, Honduran, Guatemalan, all over the world," Pastelil said. "My customers, my clients, my friends."

"Because there isn't a huge population of any one group, I think all of us learn and live with each other in a beautiful way. I'm Salvadoran and my family's from El Salvador. I love Mexican food. We love Colombian food. We love Mexican music, whatever it may be," said Jon Jacobo, a San Francisco resident and vice-president of Calle 24.

Jacobo has lived in the Mission all his life, and says this Fiesta and other events are more important than ever as the neighborhood changes.

"It definitely has changed in that there's less Latinos, less migrant folks that live in the neighborhood," Jacobo said. "There's a lot of economic pressures with gentrification and displacement and lack of affordable housing in a lot of ways where it forces people who once had a very deep connection with high numbers here are now spread out throughout the Bay Area."  

The Fiesta, he says, helps bring people back to reconnect with the community.

"I mean you see it in the music, you see it in the people gathering, in the kids dancing, in the elders dancing," Jacobo said. "It's a beautiful, beautiful day."