Natasha Khazzam, Contributing Photographer

Fair Haven came alive on Saturday with musical performances and traditional foods from various Latin American countries at the annual “Fiesta Latina”.

The event was hosted by Junta For Progressive Action, which provides “culturally responsive social services to Greater New Haven’s Latinx community,” in partnership with the Yale Peabody.

The event featured live music played by Orquesta Afinke, as well as performances by the Peruvian Marinera Dance Academy and Ballet Folklórico, Yale’s Mexican folk dance group. Around 100 attendees enjoyed Chilean empanadas and Salvadoran pupusas in the backyard of Junta’s Fair Haven location, which event coordinators consider to be “the heart” of New Haven’s Latinx community.

“This is a really amazing opportunity to celebrate nuestra Latinidad with our community members, and have live music… We all deserve that. This has been a tough couple years,” said Executive Director of Junta Bruni Pizarro FES ‘19. 

Attendees highlighted how “Fiesta Latina” provided their community with a much-needed moment of joy amid the many challenges they faced throughout the past few years. Most notably, they discussed eviction crises and food shortages following the outbreak of Covid-19 and the influx of immigration to New Haven due to natural disasters throughout Latin America.

Pizarro outlined Junta’s past efforts to serve the city, highlighting the surge of immigration from Puerto Rico to New Haven after hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. The organization has since helped over 2000 immigrants find jobs and housing through direct advocacy work with social service providers and case managers, working with immigrants on an individual basis to provide them with necessary resources to restart their lives in New Haven.

Volunteers Cheila Serrano and Juancarlos Soto emphasized the community’s continued efforts to relieve areas heavily impacted by natural disasters. Following devastation caused by Hurricane Fiona in late September, Junta started a disaster relief fund providing aid to Puerto Rico, as well as other Latin American nations impacted by climate disasters. Soto also highlighted the role of Puerto Ricans United, another New Haven-based organization that fundraised for Puerto Rico in light of recent events.

Due to the ongoing renovation at the Yale Peabody Museum, this year’s Fiesta Latina was held at Junta for the first time in its twenty-year history, allowing organizers to bring the event directly to the Latinx community of Fair Haven. 

Soto touched upon the significance of watching younger generations — who were formerly a part of the Junta youth program — organize this year’s Fiesta Latina. 

“We get to see the young leaders… literally planning this event,” Soto said. “I think that’s amazing and needs to be celebrated.”

Natasha Khazzam, Contributing Photographer

Fiesta Latina also featured pop-up booths with representatives from each of the event’s sponsors, which included the Yale Peabody Museum, New Haven Promise, A Better Life Homecare, the New Haven Pride Center, Cricket Wireless, the Puerto Rican Festival of New Haven, the New Haven Health Department and the New Haven Board of Education Dropout Prevention Department. 

Lory Rodriguez, a representative of both Junta and the New Haven Public School District, headed the “Attendance Matters” booth, which seeks to bolster attendance among New Haven public school students, about 46.7% of which are reportedly Hispanic or Latino. According to Rodriguez, attendance dropped drastically after Covid-19, as younger students who lacked socialization during the pandemic developed negative attitudes towards school, while older students who began working during the virtual learning period favored dropping out of high school in favor of working full-time.

“We’re trying to get them back integrated into the school system and going to school every day,” said Rodriguez.

Other booths, such as the New Haven Health Department’s, sought to raise awareness for issues that disproportionately impact New Haven’s Latinx community, among which include increased susceptibility to lead-polluted water sources as well as disproportionately higher rates of COVID-19.

In spite of the challenges that continue to affect the Latinx community of New Haven, Fiesta Latina served as a way to celebrate Junta’s recent accomplishments and underscore its strides towards the betterment of the city’s Latinx community.

“It’s our way of showing our community that we love them,” said Pizarro.

Fiesta Latina took place on the last day of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which lasted from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.

Natasha Khazzam covers housing and homelessness for city desk. She previously covered climate and the environment. Originally from Great Neck, New York, she is a sophomore in Davenport College majoring in history and English.