With the kick-off of Hispanic Heritage Month on Sept. 15, many cities around the U.S. are hosting events to celebrate a variety of Latin American cultures. Thousands of people poured into the heart of downtown Knoxville on Saturday Sept. 16 and Sunday Sept. 17 for the annual HoLa Festival, which made its way back to Market Square for its 18th year of vibrant cultural celebration.
Hosted by HoLa HORA Latina, a Knoxville-based nonprofit organization that aims to promote unity between Latinos and the larger community, the festival brings a taste of Latin flavor to Knoxville every year in the form of music, food, crafts and a festival-wide, passport-based activity. This year, it featured 18 food vendors representing areas such as Bolivia, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and Colombia. The vendors sold delicacies such as empanadas, pupusas, picadillos and more. Over 200 volunteers worked in various areas of the festival.
Alongside food and craft tents were informational booths providing pamphlets and other forms of information about many of the Latin countries featured in the festival, as well as about local organizations aimed at providing assistance and support to Latinos living in Knoxville and its surrounding areas.
Harley White, a sophomore studying the Spanish language, had a lot of positive feedback on this year’s HoLa Festival.
“I’ve wanted to go to the HoLa Festival ever since high school when my Spanish teacher first told me about it,” White said. “This was my first chance to go. I really loved being in an environment where it felt like Spanish was the principal language. It was very exciting to get away from English for a few hours.”
White also said she feels that it is important for festivals that celebrate different cultures to exist.
“Festivals like the HoLa Festival are important because people deserve to be proud and secure in their cultures and histories,” she said.
One can only assume that the rest of the festival’s attendees shared this sentiment, as the multitude of people packed together in the streets of downtown Knoxville walked around chatting animatedly with their friends and family, proudly sporting clothing with the flags of Latin countries and smiling as they enjoyed their dip inside what, at first glance, appeared to be another world entirely.
According to HoLa HORA Latina President Pedro Tomás, the HoLa Festival is set to continue its annual appearance in September of 2018.
All photos provided by Destiny Ditmore.