¡Vive Minnesota!—Festival celebrates Latino culture


An event 16 months in the making, Vive Minnesota…El Festival, held Memorial Day weekend on Harriet Island, has the potential to become one of the signature events of the Latino community—here in the Twin Cities, regionally, and perhaps nationally.

The idea for the free three-day celebration of Latino music, food, art, and culture began to take shape at a December 2006 meeting between media consultant Michael Robles and Mario Duarte—local Latino icon and host of KBEM Jazz 88.5’s Brisas Latinas. Robles and Duarte invited Alberto Monserrate, CEO of the Latino Communications Network, to round out their team. Each brought their own skills to the project—Duarte as a community leader, Robles as the driver of the vision and logistical expert, and Monserrate as the financial mind that has kept the organization’s goals realistic.

For information and a full schedule, see viveminnesota.com.

Robles is clear about what is motivating Vive Minnesota. “As Latinos, we’re all proud of our heritage and culture, but we often express it by celebrating individual cultures and countries.” Instead, what Robles wants for the festival is for it “not to matter what country you are from. We want to engage all Minnesotans—Latinos and non-Latinos alike—in an experience never before created here.” The family-friendly celebration will feature a variety of vendors, highlight some of the best in Latino cuisine, provide an inflatable play park for children, and offer adults a fully-catered VIP skybox with sightlines to the main stage.

Melisa Rivière, Emetrece Productions owner and the festival’s talent manager, shares these motivations. Rivière’s deep knowledge of the phenomenally eclectic Twin Cities Latino community—more diverse, in fact, than Los Angeles, San Antonio, and even Miami—underpinned her selection of performers. It is her desire to stretch what is normally categorized as “Latino” music, as well the artists who create it.

“There are so many different Latinos in the Twin Cities. It’s important for me to push the margins of what’s thought of as a stereotypical Latino in the US,” says Rivière. “There is this homogenous tropical genre [normally associated] associated with Latino music. I really wanted to try to put together something eclectic and diverse.”

True to that vision, Rivière assembled 32 artists who will be performing on two stages, as well as two DJs and three dance troupes. Countries throughout Latin and South America, as well as Spain, will be represented at the festival. Musicians with roots in Brazil, Uruguay, Haiti, Ecuador, Spain, Panama, Puerto Rico, and Mexico will play at Vive Minnesota…El Festival, with styles ranging from salsa and merengue (Charanga Tropical), dancehall (Kamillion) and reggaetón (Maria Isa) to Brazilian jazz and bossa nova (Ticket to Brasil). World renowned guitarist and former St. Paul resident Andres Prado is making the trip from his native Peru especially for the festival.

The Twin Cities Latino community is more diverse than those in Los Angeles, San Antonio, or even Miami.

Another of Rivière’s goals was to focus not just on Latin artists, but also on Latin repertoires. “Our community is fortunate to be home to some very good artists not of Latin origin, but with excellent Latin repertoires,” said Rivière. These artists include Flamenco guitarist Michael Hauser and hip-hop and spoken word queen Desdamona.

According to Jesse Bethke-Gomez, President of the Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio (CLUES), as well as an accomplished musician and arranger himself, “artistic expression can sometimes best serve as a bridge for communities to enjoy together the sharing of cultures in the growing diversity of who we are becoming as Minnesotans. This is an event that is alive with with music expression, alive with culture, and celebrates diversity!”

Robles, Duarte and Monserrate took some inspiration for the festival from Viva Chicago, one of the largest festivals of Latino culture in the country. However, while Viva Chicago is owned by the City of Chicago, Robles envisions Vive Minnesota…El Festival as being owned by the Twin Cities’ Latino community, with a portion of the profits from the festival being used to support the Latino Scholarship Fund administered by the Latino Economic Development Center (LEDC).

While Robles plans for mainstream success for Vive Minnesota…El Festival—goals for future festivals include bringing in national and international musical acts—he is quick to emphasize that local Latino artists will always be the foundation of the celebration.

Justin Schell is a freelance writer and a grad student at the University of Minnesota’s Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society program. He’s working on a dissertation on Twin Cities immigrant and diasporic hip-hop and plays the washboard tie with The Gated Community.