Growing up on southwest 10th street, there was no escaping the Calle Ocho Music Festival. Not only did the sounds overflow from eighth street, there was also visual proof that this wasn’t an ordinary day. Suddenly – aided by the most entrepreneurial neighbors, who held up signs advertising parking – my sleepy street was filled with cars.
It was hard not to get caught up in the grandeur of the day, and I remember looking forward to it every year. With the usually busy Calle Ocho closed off to cars, we roamed for blocks and blocks, though never quite making it to the end before exhaustion took over. Eventually, my enthusiasm for the festival vanished, and as a teenager, I saw it more as a nuisance that made navigating Miami difficult.
But the Calle Ocho of my childhood isn’t the same as the one from today. The festival began in the late 1970s as a way to honor the Cuban community, but for the past few decades it has become more about celebrating the diverse Latin American cultures that make up the city. Calle Ocho has done a decent job at representing who our communities are today. This is most reflected through the musical acts, who once came from the most traditional genres like salsa, but today includes sometimes maligned reggaetoneros. It has helped to draw a younger crowd to a festival that hasn’t always been seen as cool.
These changes, however, haven’t changed the core of the festival. This year, as in years past, people wore shirts, necklaces, and even flags to rep their countries while the smell of arepas and croquetas filled the air.
“[I come] because we need to always celebrate where we come from and who we are as a people,” says 29-year-old Alejandra Estefania, who designed the official poster for the festival, to Remezcla. “It’s always amazing to have the ability to showcase your culture.”
Norma Moreno, a 29-year-old of Nicaraguan heritage, echoes these sentiments. “[I come] to be reminded of how powerful we are as Latinos here in America and … to remember where I came from,” she says. “[Calle Ocho is] the cultural center of Miami … [and somewhere] we can all come together in peace and [a] celebration for something really beautiful, like celebrating ourselves.”
Calle Ocho has always been necessary, but at a time when anti-immigrant rhetoric runs on high, it reinforces the idea that our communities and their stories matter.
This year’s festival saw more than 500,000 visitors. Photographer Alfonso Duran headed to Calle Ocho, which is the biggest celebration of the Latinx community in this country, this weekend and came across both new attendees and old regulars and captured what makes the yearly event so special. Check out his photos below.
On-the-ground reporting by Alfonso Duran.