Eugene Weekly : News : 9.17.09

Hispanic, Her Panic
Rebeca Urhausen and Fiesta Latina after 18 years
by Joseph A. Lieberman

As chief organizer of  Fiesta Latina since it started in 1992, Rebeca Urhausen has had to hit the panic button more times than she’d like to recall.

Photo by Joseph A. Lieberman

“Weather conditions, sudden cancellations, fundraising frustrations and conflicting overlaps with other events have all challenged our collective resources over the years,” Urhausen told EW recently, “but from each challenge there were lessons learned, resolution achieved, progress
made. I’d say unequivocally that for 2009, we’ve really got it together — provided the sky cooperates.” So far, the forecast for the Friday and Saturday event is good.

The first fiesta idea originated with Angie Sifuentez, who together with Urhausen and Alfonso Cabrera, pushed for a Latino Street Fair during Cinco de Mayo festivities in the Whiteaker neighborhood nearly two decades ago. It was the huge turnout at this event — instead of an expected 1,000 attendees, the number reached closer to 8,000 — that inspired them to expand it.

“From that initial success,” Urhausen says, “Fiesta Latina relocated to Washington /Jefferson Park for the next decade with the help of City of Eugene block grant funding. It was part of a campaign to take back the neighborhood for kids and families from people abusing alcohol and drugs.”

Five years ago, the Fiesta committee decided to move to Springfield’s Island Park, changing the date of the event from predictably rainy May to slightly less moist September. The timing also fit nicely with September being Hispanic Heritage Month.

From the beginning, one of the chief goals of the festival was to break some of the stereotypes surrounding Eugene/Springfield’s Hispanic population.

A good example is the recent participation of hydraulically powered “jumping cars” typically associated with street gangs. “Go up and talk to these guys,” Urhausen says, “and you’ll find that many are in the National Guard, and several have served overseas. In our culture, their pride is in these souped-up symbols of masculine might, but at heart, they’re really very decent young men.”

The 2009 Fiesta Latina will include, for the first time, a “low-rider” car show and contest (a display of motorized machismo that already made a splash in this year’s Eugene Celebration parade). While their brazen bouncing and battery-filled trunks may not translate into fuel efficiency, they have few equals when it comes to automotive acrobatics.

“A further departure from other Hispanic celebrations such as Cinco de Mayo,” Urhausen adds, “is that Fiesta Latina is primarily kid-friendly and alcohol free.”

Some of the annual family staples are pony rides, magicians, a hands-on arts and crafts tent, Zany Zoo’s menagerie teaching responsible pet ownership, a chance to don a blindfold and clobber piñatas, and stage performances by young members of the Ballet Folklórico Sol Azteca (which almost, but not quite, lost its primary instructor earlier this year). Plus, there’s no admission charge for kids 10 and under.

Backing up this scene with some pleasurable culinary accents, an aromatic mix of Mexican, Central and South American food booths add to the international flavor, while clothing and curio stalls offer further diversions.

It’s the music that’s the biggest draw, however. The weekend line-up includes suave Mexican-American pop singer Rogelio Martínez, the Los Cumbiamberos musical ensemble pounding out popular Central American dance numbers and the harmoniously bilingual Jimmy G Revue covering a wide variety of Latin, jazz, and funk styles. Mexico City’s teenage heart-throb Franco is back, with a year added onto his last appearance here at age 13.

The Friday night show culminates with a Seattle salsa orchestra, Expresión Latina, but there’s also a two-day salsa dance contest, with winners announced on Saturday.

With family matters to attend to, this will be Urhausen’s final year as organizer. “I’m pleased that both Fiesta Latina and the Hispanic community here have grown exponentially, but I sometimes regret that the influences and interfaces between our culture and mainstream Eugene/ Springfield are not often apparent,” she said. “Hopefully, this year’s event will add to our mutual understanding and interaction.”

Fiesta Latina begins Friday, Sept. 18, and runs all day and evening Saturday. More info at