HoLa Festival 2023 Kicks Off Hispanic Heritage Month

HoLa Festival, World's Fair Park, September 2023
HoLa Festival, World’s Fair Park, September 2023

HoLa Hora Latina began Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept 15-Oct 15) in Knoxville with a fiesta of color, flavor, sound, and fun. This year marked the 23rd year of the HoLa Festival, Sept 16-17. I took the family down to World’s Fair Park to enjoy the beautiful weather and learn more about our Hispanic community as they shared their culture.

HoLa Festival, Laura Contreras Representing Mexico, World’s Fair Park, September 2023

There were 21 educational Hispanic Heritage booths on Sunday, children’s activities, and booths from community resources. An arts and crafts area entertained the children, as did the face painting booth and a few carnival-type games. We did not get to attend Saturday evening (though it would have been preferable to the sporting activity we had committed to watching). Saturday featured its own list of musical guests and dancing, followed by fireworks.

We had a blast practicing salsa dance skills with the crowd as Salsa Knox demonstrated the dance on the International Stage. I was impressed by the number of folks willing to strut their stuff and learn something new. My husband and I took a series of ballroom dance classes when our oldest was an infant, and I remember feeling pretty self-conscious with only a few other couples in the room, much less a huge crowd at an outdoor festival. (Those lessons also identified some control issues I had. My husband is very patient, but that is a story for another day.) There was something very pure and inviting about the whole event, and it accomplished that feeling of community and celebration.

Multiple food vendors from many countries were present, selling pupusas, street tacos, empanadas, sweet treats, and drinks. The lines were long, but the crowd was patient, and the servers were pleasant. The HoLa festival is structured differently than other festivals regarding how attendees purchase food and beverages. You must purchase tickets ($1=1 ticket) to buy food and drinks, as the vendors do not take cash/cards. There were three tents set up to do this. For alcohol, you had first to verify your ID and get a wristband. Then, you purchase a beer ticket to get your drink. I looked for tequila and a margarita, but only beer was served that I found. A hint for next year?

My favorite musical guests were Soul Sacrifice/Santana Tribute. They were energetic and engaged well with the audience. They brought up a woman (I missed getting her name) to play drums along with them, and she was fantastic. She gave me Shelia E vibes. After her performance, she gave a drumstick to a tiny fan who had been dancing along with the music. The little girl lit up and ran excitedly to tell her family about it. Those moments are priceless.

HoLa Festival, World’s Fair Park, September 2023

The Parade of Nations was as colorful and lovely as I expected. Many were dressed in costume, representing their country’s heritage and telling a story. It made me curious to learn more about a few less familiar countries. That’s a big part of the purpose of events like this. Exposing individuals and communities to cultures that are not their own makes our world bigger as we see outside of our community and, simultaneously, smaller as we understand where people come from. Our history and our heritage are a significant influence on who we are. The pride on the faces and the enthusiasm in the parade made me proud to live in a city that celebrates all cultures.

HoLa Hora Latina, the organization that puts on the festival, moved up the festival a few weeks, and it coordinated perfectly with the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month. I can’t think of a better way to start the month. For more information on HoLa Hora Latina, go to their website and follow them on social media. There are volunteer and sponsorship opportunities for the festival and other events throughout the year. You can become a member of the organization HERE. When walking down Gay St., stop in HoLa Hora Latina’s Casa HoLa Art Gallery and Artisan Gift Shop on the bottom floor of the Emporium for the Arts.

Did you go to the festival? We would love to hear your highlights and see your favorite photos!

HoLa Festival, World’s Fair Park, September 2023