Week 14 of the MBMHMC Tour has taken me to the Cuban Fest in Riis Park, located at Narragansett and Fullerton Avenue, in the Belmont Cragin community area. There was absolutely no parking in sight, so I decided to take a chance and park across the street at Jewels. Even still, I had to walk about a half a mile around the park because it was barricaded by six-foot high metal gates.
Upon entering the park, my camera bag was searched, and the police presence was obvious, although they weren't offensive—they were cool. More disheartening than the police presence was the $10 admission fee. Last week at Fest Italiana, there was a $5 suggested donation; this week it's $10 per head? Where is all the money going?
As I walked in, the Cuban spirit appeared to be on full display. I saw flags, t-shirts, neck ties, etc. This lasted for about a block and a half, and then I arrived at the park, where there was salsa dancing, Cuban music, and plenty of fellow Chicagoans to speak with. Tatiana told me that she was very disappointed that there was no Cuban food or Cuban drinks. Nothing Cuban, except the t-shirts and some memorabilia. $10 to pay to get in ... for what? To walk the park? I enjoyed the company, but it was wayyyyy overpriced. This was a money machine, like many other Chicago festivals.
I also met Rodolfo, a Mexican who told me he didn't know why this fest was called the Cuban Fest, because there aren't many Cubans in the area. He said that the area was predominately Mexican and Puerto Rican. Well, regardless of what nationality, Latinos were definitely united at the Cuban Fest.
Juan told me that the $10 charge was the reason the Cuban Fest at RIIS Park was safe, in comparison to the Puerto Rican Day parade where there's no fee and it feels unsafe. I personally felt like it was well organized, and I appreciated the fact that measures were taken to make it safe. The $10 wasn't even a big deal once I realized what the money was going toward.
I was able to hear Governor Pat Quinn give a stump speech and also Senator Iris Martinez. I couldn't understand what she was saying, but I could hear the silence in the air as she spoke. The people believe in her. Her voice was magical. The most memorable part of the day was seeing my fellow Chicagoans move. This was really the first time I'd ever seen someone salsa dance up close. Pretty unforgettable day, or should I say Un dia inolvidable.