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Colombian Fest brings ‘the whole Colombian experience’ to Humboldt Park this weekend

Billed as the largest Hispanic culture festival in the Midwest, the event returns for its eighth year with music, food, dance and art from Colombia and other Latin American countries.

Colombian Fest returns this weekend to Humboldt Park, transforming the southeast corner of the sprawling 200-acre park into a buffet of art, food, music and more.

The festival, now in its eighth year, is billed as the largest Hispanic culture festival in the Midwest and coincides with Colombian Independence Day.

The festival opened Friday afternoon with free admission but will continue from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the corner of Division Street and California Avenue. A weekend day ticket costs $25.

Inside the gate, attendees will be met with the “whole Colombian experience,” festival founder Jorge Ortega said.

That includes about 30 stalls selling items from handmade shoes to Colombian national team soccer jerseys; 12 stalls offering Colombian and Puerto Rican foods; and six drink vendors.

The festival features live music all weekend as well as moon bounces and laser tag for kids.

“It feels like where we came from,” said Fredy Catano, a vendor who sells colorful handmade shoes and wallets his sister makes in Colombia.

Behind the row of shops on Friday, the smell of grilled meat filled the air as Efren Perez and his father, Luis Perez, prepared their specialty: carne a la llanera, a form of Colombian barbecue the two learned to cook outside of Bogota, the capital of Colombia.

The beef is stretched vertically, rotated over an open flame and served with a flavorful chimichurri sauce.

“It’s a good chance for people to get introduced to us,” Efren Perez said, referring to his fellow Colombians. “We’re a happy culture.”

Top musical acts this year include Wilfrido Vargas, Tito Nieves and Binomio De Oro.

On Sunday, legendary 80-year-old bullerengue singer Ceferina Banquez will take the stage backed by an eight-piece band.

The group’s Afro-Colombian rhythms were first developed by enslaved people to communicate escape routes, according to band member Javier Mutis, but Banquez mainly sings about the quotidian joys of life in Colombia.

To cap off the festivities on Sunday night, Ortega will lead the final tradition of the fest — the Grand Congo parade.

The Baranquilla native said he styled the parade after his hometown carnival, one of the biggest in Colombia. About 30 people dressed in the yellow, red and blue of Colombia’s national flag will parade through the park, inviting festivalgoers to join in. To finish, they will climb the stage to sing both the Colombian and American national anthems.

“It’s a moment for us to share our festive Colombian feeling,” Ortega said.

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.

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