"It is easier to build a strong child than to repair a broken man." - Frederick Douglass

How Chicago’s Colombian Fest Brings This Nation’s Rich Cultural Heritage and Spirit to the Windy City

Colombian Fest

Colombia is a country with not only rich biodiversity but has a vast and unique cultural demographic which influences its citizens’ way of life. It is the merging point of Spanish, indigenous, and African roots that gives it a vibrant cultural identity. These different influences play a major part in the lives of modern-day Colombians and is present in their music, dance, and style.

Within these past two years I befriended a woman with strong Colombian roots who assists her family of musicians, The Ortega Brothers. The Ortega Brothers organize El Gran Festival Colombiano Chicago/Colombian Fest Chicago. They do a remarkable job of transporting the warm spirit or “calor humano” and hospitality from Barranquilla to Chicago.

Colombian FestI first experienced the calor humano, loosely translated to “human warmth” of Colombia last year at the Colombian Fest in Kelvyn Park. This fest is a very family-friendly affair that offers all-ages activities such as face painting, bounce houses, trinkets, delicious food, souvenirs, a procession with multiple elaborately-costumed dancers, and a wide variety of internationally known musicians. Last year, they featured salsa pioneer Willie Colon as their closing headliner who captivated every soul in attendance.

As you explore the fest, a sea of yellow soccer jerseys representing their country’s colors will surround you. You will also see how much pride they have in their flag and the many lovely colorful hats, including the “sombrero vueltiao”, which is an iconic symbol of the country. You will be hard-pressed to walk three feet and not be within arms length of someone without the exquisite hats.

This year, not only did Colombia celebrate its 209th year, but also I had the opportunity to visit and celebrate the bicentennial of its 4th largest city and The Ortega Brother’s hometown of Barranquilla. Barranquilla is home to the second-largest carnival celebration outside of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I can tell you that it is spectacular and a sight to behold. There are multiple floats with dancers in elaborate costumes, captivating marching bands, and a sea of people throwing flour and foam. Luckily, they don’t practice this in Chicago, because your dry cleaning bill would be enormous, but it is truly a remarkable experience.  There is a saying in Barranquilla,  “quien lo vive, es quien lo goza”, which means, “those who live it are those who enjoy it”, and by the looks on their faces, it is true.

Colombia has a vibrant cuisine, which is well renowned for its soups, or ‘sopas’ that contain beef, pork, chicken, yucca, potatoes, and a side of coconut rice. The locals say that one bowl of soup will clear congestion better than any remedy in the drug store and I can honestly say I believe it to be true. It goes down well with sugar cane juice that is the perfect balance of sweet, smooth, and refreshing.

Since I have experienced El Gran Festival Colombiano Chicago and Barranquilla’s Carnival, I can honestly tell you that The Ortega Brothers successfully bring the spirit of Carnival to Chicago. You will feel welcome, enjoy the festivities, and learn about how the spirit of Colombia truly offers the calor


Written by Daveed J. Holmes

Fetured and Top Image Courtesy of Daveed Holmes

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