Inaugural Fiestas Patronales draw 15,000 people to Holyoke to celebrate Puerto Rican culture

Published: 08/09/2022 14:51:04

HOLYOKE — Thousands of people flocked to Paper City this weekend for a festival full of music, food and Puerto Rican culture.

Last weekend marked the first annual Fiestas Patronales de Holyoke – a traditional festival held in towns and cities across Puerto Rico and now, for the first time, Holyoke.

Event organizers say up to 15,000 people visited the city over the weekend, enjoying music from a large stage on Dwight Street just across from Heritage State Park, food trucks and booths run by local restaurants, and more.

“It was a huge success,” said Melvin Sanchez, one of the festival organizers. “I think for this committee meeting for the first time, taking six or seven months to plan this event and really not having the normal experience or group expertise that event planners usually have, it was an amazing event.”

Sanchez attributed some of that success to booking well-known acts like popular merengue bands Grupo Manía and Juancho, as well as salsa artist Viti Ruiz. The organizing committee also advertised in popular Spanish-language media in the run-up to the festival.

The Fiestas Patronales are popular cultural and religious festivals across the island of Puerto Rico, where towns celebrate their patron saint and people together in celebration. Event organizers chose Our Lady of Guadalupe as the patron saint of Holyoke, based in the city’s Spanish-speaking parish of the same name.

For many in Holyoke — a city where 54.6% of residents identify as Hispanic, most of them Puerto Rican — the festival was a chance for people to experience this tradition for the first time.

“I was at work all day today smiling,” said General Councilor José Maldonado Velez. His mother, one of the event organizers, grew up in Puerto Rico and always talked about parties, he said. “I’ve known it all my life and finally got to experience it.”

Maldonado Velez said that on Sunday alone more than 7,000 people came to the city to celebrate.

“I think the most important thing for me is to send the message that we Latinos are capable of doing great things,” he said. “We can’t keep saying there’s nothing to do, we have to create it.”

Sanchez said organizers want Fiestas Patronales to become a tradition in the area, like taking kids to see chickens hatch at the Big E.

“It’s something we want to do as a tradition where parents can take their kids,” he said.

Already on Monday, the day after the events, Sanchez said that the organizing committee was planning the second Fiestas Patronales de Holyoke.

“We are meeting tonight and we are already planning what the possible groups can be for next year,” he said.

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