Life of the party

Wells Avenue community celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month

People crowd Wells Avenue during Fiesta on Wells 2017.

People crowd Wells Avenue during Fiesta on Wells 2017.

courtesy/mario delarosa

Learn more about Fiesta on Wells here:

National Hispanic Heritage Month kicks off as it does every year on Sept. 15. The start date for the celebration of Hispanic-American people, culture and art is a significant one. Sept. 15 marks the anniversary of independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mexico celebrates independence on Sept. 16 and Chile on Sept. 18.

To mark Hispanic Heritage Month, the City of Reno hosts Fiesta 2018 in Wingfield Park. The event is scheduled for the afternoon of Saturday Sept. 23 and will feature local mariachi bands, food trucks, family activities and salsa dancing groups teaching lessons. Changüí Majadero, a five-piece Cuban outfit from Los Angeles, is scheduled to headline the event. City officials didn’t respond to interview requests regarding the event, but a press release states that it was spearheaded by city councilmember Oscar Delgado in “2017 as another opportunity to celebrate Reno’s thriving arts and culture scene, and to recognize Hispanic Heritage Month.”

Another Hispanic Heritage Month event is Fiesta on Wells. Like the one slated for Wingfield Park, it will feature music, art and food, but it’s an older event than the city’s—and it takes place on Wells Avenue, a neighborhood that’s long been home to many of Reno’s Hispanic families and businesses.

According to organizers and spouses Mario DelaRosa and Annamaria Cavallone, Fiesta on Wells has taken place a half a dozen times in the last decade. This year’s event will take place one day after the city’s, on Sept. 23—with Wells Avenue closed from Casazza Street to Capitol Hill Avenue to accommodate vendors and entertainers.

DelaRosa said the fiesta is an event “organized by the community for the community,” of which both he and Cavallone are active members. DelaRosa is a journalist and owner of Reno’s Ahora Latino Journal, and Cavallone is the director of the bilingual theater group Brown Eyes Theater. DelaRosa said they want this year’s Fiesta to provide not just entertainment for the community, but also resources. Among the vendors who will be present are health and life insurance brokers and businesses like Costco. And DelaRosa and Cavallone have also arranged for political candidates to be on hand to talk with community members, including Washoe County Sheriff candidates Darin Balaam and Heidi Howe.

“And there are many community organizations, also,” said DelaRosa. “For example, we have Catholic Charities, Children’s Cabinet, Silver State Housing. We have Washoe Foster, [Truckee Meadows Community College]. We have this organization called PLAN.”

Cavallone and DelaRosa said they’ve also worked to secure a diversity of arts, culture and entertainment at this year’s Fiesta on Wells.

“We have a tango group participating,” Cavallone said. “It’s an Argentinian group.”

“They’re called Reno Tango Collective,” DelaRosa said.

There will also be a Frida Kahlo lookalike contest, a DJ and a couple of local bands, including Connoy Extrema and an eight-piece band and called Fuerza Latina.

For both Cavallone and DelaRosa, the hope is that Fiesta on Wells will serve as more than a one-day good time to those who attend.

“We know that these events create awareness in the community about the Hispanic community, who we are and the things that we bring to the table,” DelaRosa said. “In these times, it’s very important to come out and celebrate and be proud of who we are.”

Part of that, DelaRosa said, is bringing awareness to the fact that Latino arts and activists groups and Latino-owned businesses are a part of the Truckee Meadows community year-round.

A Toda Madre Tattoos artist Josh Locke works on spouse Billie Jean Locke’s tattoo.

Photo /jeri chadwell

He points to the nearly three dozen Latino-owned businesses in the area of Wells Avenue that will be closed for the fiesta—and to groups like Reno Little Theater, which works with Cavallone to present Brown Eyes Theater productions several times per year.

“We have a new play about Frida Kahlo for October,” Cavallone said. “And we’re the only Latino, bilingual theater group in Reno.”

Frida the Play will run from Oct. 25 through Oct. 28. The Brown Eyes Theater group will also be presenting a Day of the Dead show for children that weekend, which according to Cavallone will be “like a Muppets show,” just “Dia de Los Muertos Muppets.”

“We think it’s very important to maintain our traditions and to show the general community the contributions we bring to the community, including language, culture, arts, food and economics,” DelaRosa said.

Promoting awareness of Latino residents’ contributions to—and engagement with—the broader community isn’t just a concern for the organizers of Fiesta on Wells. It also strikes a chord with some of the folks who will be performing there and those who run their businesses there every day.

Among the performers for Fiesta on Wells is Laura Zamora, a member of the band Fuerza Latina. Zamora, a vocalist, has been performing in places around Northern Nevada and California for about six years now. Normally, she said, the band gets hired for “Quinceañeras or weddings, any kind of private party.”

But, she said, “Our music is very popular. Our music is Cumbia and then Salsa. We do a bit of Bachata and Merengue” and people “who are non-Latinos, they love our music. The Fiesta just calls attention.”

She’s hoping that attention might be parlayed into casino gigs where the band could reach broader and more diverse audiences.

“One thing about our band—I always call them the perfect combination, which is Salvadoran and Mexican combined,” she said. “And it’s so good. That’s why, always, when I start any gig, I describe the perfect combination—Fuerza Latina.”

Lola Winckelmann, a tattoo artist at A Toda Madre Tattoos, also describes what she and other artists at the shop do as a type of combination. On their website, they bill it as “Chicano style.”

“Chicano style tattooing, I would say that it’s a way to represent the Latino community and the lifestyle of that—what that means to live in this country being from that background and how to bring that sense of nostalgia but, also … we have now a mixture of this culture with that culture.”

According to Winckelmann, one way the artists at A Toda Madre work to blend more modern and traditional Chicano-style tattoos is by specializing in modern interpretations of a style called “black and gray realism,” which made its way from prisons to East Los Angeles’ Chicano communities, where it became popular.

“It started getting out into the streets and people started knowing about that and seeing how beautiful that is,” she said. “People just started taking that and running with it and evolving it. Now we have some beautifully complex black and gray pieces out there. They’re hyperrealistic, and it all came from that. We really try and, you know, give our own flair to it and offer that to our community at this shop. … I think that we do primarily specify in black and gray, and we are accommodating to that audience specifically, but we do have somebody for everything. We try to be a well-rounded shop.”

A Toda Madre will have a vendor’s booth during Fiesta on Wells. According to Winckelmann, the shop’s artists are excited to participate with raffles that will hopefully draw in new people. But, like Cavallone, DelaRosa and Zamora, she’s quick to clarify that Fiesta on Wells is only one chance to engage with a community that exists year round.

“For instance, in the holiday time, we do a lot of toy drives and things like that,” she said. “Definitely, I think that there’s more than one way of being involved in the community. … We have all of these little events here and there. So we give back to the community, and I think that’s really helped for us to be successful in the five years we’ve been here as well.”