Colombian Fest brings “the whole Colombian experience” to Humboldt Park this weekend

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The Colombian Festival returns to Humboldt Park this weekend, 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 ticket costs $25.

Eliana La Colombiana performs Friday night at Colombian Fest Chicago at Humboldt Park on the West Side.

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

This includes around 30 stalls selling items ranging from handmade shoes to Colombian national team football shirts; 12 stands offering Colombian and Puerto Rican dishes; and six beverage vendors.

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

“It’s like where we come from,” said Fredy Catano, a vendor who sells colorful shoes and wallets handmade by his sister 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 that the two learned to cooking outside Bogota, the capital of Colombia.

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

“It’s a good opportunity for people to introduce us,” said Efren Perez, referring to his fellow Colombians. “We are a happy culture.”

This year’s top musical artists include Wilfrido Vargas, Tito Nieves and Binomio De Oro.

On Sunday, the legendary 80-year-old bullring singer, Ceferina Banquez, will take the stage accompanied by a group of eight musicians.

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

To top off the festivities on Sunday night, Ortega will lead the latest holiday tradition – the Grand Congo Parade.

The Baranquilla native said he designed the parade after his hometown’s carnival, one of Colombia’s biggest. About 30 people dressed in the yellow, red and blue of the Colombian national flag will parade through the park, inviting festival-goers to join them.

Finally, they will go on stage to sing the Colombian and American national anthems.

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

Michael Loria is a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for Americaa non-profit journalism program that aims to strengthen the newspaper’s coverage of communities on the South and West Sides.

Mason Gonzalez, 9, carries Colombia's national flag Friday at Colombian Fest Chicago at Humboldt Park on the West Side.

Mason Gonzalez, 9, carries Colombia’s national flag Friday at Colombian Fest Chicago at Humboldt Park on the West Side Friday.

Festival-goers drink and dance Friday night at Colombian Fest Chicago at Humboldt Park on the West Side.

Festival-goers drink and dance Friday night at Colombian Fest Chicago at Humboldt Park on the West Side.

Festival-goers eat barbecued ribs Friday night at Colombian Fest Chicago at Humboldt Park on the West Side.

Festival-goers eat barbecued ribs Friday night at Colombian Fest Chicago at Humboldt Park on the West Side.

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