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

  • Holyoke Mayor Joshua Garcia takes the stage at Holyoke’s first Fiestas Patronales on Saturday. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/9/2022 2:51:04 PM

HOLYOKE — Thousands of people poured into the Paper City over the weekend for a festival full of music, food and Puerto Rican culture.

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

Event organizers say that as many as 15,000 people visited the city over the weekend, enjoying music from a large stage on Dwight Street right 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’s organizers. “I think for this committee coming together for the first time, taking six or seven months to plan this event out and really not having the normal experience or the group expertise that the event planners usually have, it was an incredible event.”

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

Fiestas Patronales are popular cultural and religious festivals across the island of Puerto Rico, where cities fete their patron saint and residents together to celebrate. Event organizers chose Our Lady of Guadalupe as Holyoke’s patron saint, based on 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 that tradition for the first time.

“I was at work all day today smiling,” At-large City Councilor José Maldonado Velez said. His mother, one of the event organizers, grew up in Puerto Rico and always talked about the fiestas, he said. “I’ve known my whole life about it 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 biggest thing for me is sending a message that us Latinos are capable of doing great things,” he said. “We can’t keep saying there’s nothing to do, we have to cre ate it.”

Sanchez said that organizers want the Fiestas Patronales to become a tradition in the region, like taking children to see chickens hatching at The Big E.

“This is 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 the organizing committee is planning the second Fiestas Patronales de Holyoke.

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

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