Iowa City’s Latino Fest animates city streets

On Aug. 27, Iowans celebrated the cultural heritage of Iowa City’s Latino citizens at the Pedestrian Mall through Iowa City’s very first Latino Festival. With participants of diverse ethnic backgrounds immersing themselves in Latino celebrations, the festival made Latino culture a part of the artistic life of Iowa City.


Johnny Jarnagin

A performer at Iowa City’s Latino Festive changes attire in the Pedestrian Mall on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022.

Vaishnavi Kolluru, Arts Reporter

Dancers donned in colorful traditional clothing skipped and swayed to folk tunes enlivened by quick drumbeats outside the Pedestrian Mall on Saturday as part of the celebration of Iowa City’s Latino Festival.

The audience was moved into cheering and clapping, and many rushed onto the stage to join the performance.

Several stalls selling serapes, rebozos — types of Latin American shawls — and sombreros — Mexican straw hats embroidered with floral designs — as well as food stations offering tacos, burritos, and paletas surrounded the dance floor and were bustling with eager customers.

Chica Dalia, the anchor of the show and a local stylist and fashion designer, hosted the festival with zeal and energy, often joining the performers in dancing and singing. She described the cultural significance of the performances for the audience and encouraged them to hop onto the stage.

Integrating Mexican Iowans into the city was a cause with personal significance for Dalia. She also spoke of her name as a symbol of her complex ethnic background.

“[Chica] is more of a name that represents where I come from,” Dalia said, as she clarified that this was only a title, her full name being Aileen Dalia Castaneda. “I am Mexican-American, which is Chicana.”

When asked what the dances at the festival represented, Dalia explained that they were a way of narrating the rich history of Latinos.

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“This dance comes from Morelia, that is in Mexico,” she said, “The dance shows our tradition and history through clothing and what we are doing. It’s just a way for us to tell where we come from. Every little town has their own type of dance: There’s Viejitos, there’s Chinelos, there’s different forms of dances for the same thing, to tell our history.”

She said the dances attempt to incorporate all parts of Latin American identity.

Latin American history encompasses the tales of Native American groups like those of the Aztecs and the Mayans, the history of colonialism, and the challenges of adjusting to American life in contemporary times. The dances fuse elements of all these cultures to convey to Latin Americans that they can be both Latino and American, Dalia said.

The organizer of the event was Dalia’s mentor, Manny Galvez. He is the public relations manager of Iowa City’s Public Library and editor of El Trueque Latino Magazine. As a Mexican immigrant who has lived in Iowa City for twenty years, Galvez said he realizes the importance of celebrating the cultural heritage of Latinos in order to make Iowa City truly inclusive.

“There’s many Latinos and Latinas in this area,” Galvez said. “I felt like it was necessary to do something to keep our roots, our traditions like food, music, and I think this is the best way. Also, because that helps to connect people from the Latino community, by everybody in the city.”

With participants of diverse ethnic backgrounds immersing themselves in Latino celebrations, the festival successfully made Latino culture a part of the artistic life of Iowa City.