India Colón es una Mujer que Rockea—Se Acerca el Festival Hispano y el Desfile (Women Who Rock)
The 43rd annual Wilmington Hispanic Festival and Parade takes place this Sunday, September 15th and we talked to India Saraí Colón, a 15-year supporter of this event who has grown her role into managing the operations of the festival and parade.
IN Wilmington: What is significant about this weekend that causes the festival and parade to take place at this time of year?
India Saraí Colón: There is so much that revolves around the Hispanic community in general in that timeframe. The celebrations originally kicked off with Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968 under Lyndon Johnson. In 1988, Ronald Reagan signed into law a bill that expanded the week into a month, with September 15th as the start date.
September 15th is the anniversary of the date several Latin American countries—Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua—declared their independence from Spain. Mexico and Chile did the same in the week after.
Then comes Columbus Day on October 12, which is a big date for the Hispanic community. While it is looked at by some as a day of observance for Christopher Columbus, the Hispanic community made it El Dia de la Raza—The Day of Race. We consider ourselves one race: we’re human.
IN: This is the 43rd annual Hispanic Festival. How many years have you been working with the festival and how has your role changed?
Colón: I started as a volunteer in 2005. I helped with hair and makeup and being a go-fer when veteran organizers needed things. I’ve stayed with the organization every year since then. Some years I’ve been involved in decorating; sometimes I’ve helped with sound.
In 2018, I became the Vice President of Nuestras Raices, after becoming a board member in 2012.
Nuestras Raices organizes multiple cultural experiences throughout the year, from a coquito contest to a pageant. Each element has a chair. Delsey Morales is the Festival Chair and Maddie Rivera is the Parade Chair. Maria Perez is our President and has probably been with the organization for 30 years. She keeps the team in line when we are starting to steer away from the vision.
IN: What IS the vision for the festival?
Colón: The festival already is so big because we highlight 19 countries during Hispanic Heritage Month. There is such diversity among the Hispanic community. Every year we have a new theme, typically highlighting one country.
Ultimately, since the State of Delaware doesn’t have a Hispanic cultural arts center, our vision for Nuestras Raices since we became a nonprofit in 1999 is to get a building that can have an auditorium, dance room, art room, literacy center, etc. The idea is to grow in baby steps and get grant sourcing and funding.
We want the building to have pods where if someone in the Hispanic community wants to contribute their culture to our offerings, they can do that, whether that’s poetry, recording music or learning an instrument.
In 2020, we will be looking for grant writers to help us find funding to expand into a building.
IN: What might people expect in 2019?
Colón: 2018 was a tribute to Puerto Rico because of the anniversary of Hurricane Maria. We were looking at a rained out weekend, but the parade is so iconic. Are we canceling or do we postpone?
We had biggest parade in ten years in terrible weather! Senators and representatives turned out. It was pouring down rain. Our community said if Puerto Rico could do it, we can do it. We doubled our attendance.
This year we are focusing on Venezuela. Their citizens are facing almost genocide-like conditions with food and water lacking. We are going to have live streaming with the community there, to show we are behind them. We are making a world connection and trying to give them love from afar.
The parade route runs from 4th and Bancroft and finishes at Jackson Street. It’s been the same parade route for all 43 years, through the heart of the West Side community.
The festival is free this year. During the off-milestone years it’s a free community event. The 45th anniversary will be a more extended event – three days and we will charge admission on the biggest day, but it’s usually a nominal fee like $5. The festival is free to children always. This year, we moved it back to the Riverfront next to Frawley Stadium.
We’ll have 20-30 informational vendors to keep the community informed. Taxes, attorneys, funeral homes, health, etc.
Vendors will offer merchandise from different Hispanic populations, such as Aztec art, and a lot of pride material like flags and t-shirts.
One thing visitors enjoy is our flags-up campaign: at the festival you’ll see all the flags go up. Even countries people don’t necessarily see as Hispanic, like Africa and Jamaica. We’ll have ambassadors available to answer questions about the flags. It’s not just a celebration; we keep it informational so people are learning something.
We have artists ranging from a Puerto Rican Grammy winner, and a 12-year old performer. Anthony Colon, NG2, TXNA, Grupo Exclusivo, Frontline Muzik, DJ Jholi are just some of the performers.
IN: What’s different from previous years?
Colón: It’s an ever-changing event because we are a volunteer organization and people turn over. It keeps us young. We are always looking for the next bright idea and the next generation that is coming up.
IN: What is your ancestry?
Colón: I’m Puerto Rican. Both my parents were born and raised on the island. I’m first generation born and raised here, and I’m a Delaware native.
IN: How long have you been an event planner? What was the first big event you were involved in?
Colón: I’ve been a consultant for special events since 2015. This festival was my first, but also concurrent to that was the 20th anniversary of Americorps with the State of Delaware. I was working with the State’s volunteer office as a volunteer administrator. There was a statewide campaign and celebration – it was happening at the same time in all 50 states. We were all live streaming each other.
IN: You also have a military background. Tell us about that.
Colón: I just retired February 2019 after 22 years. I was an E-7 Master Sergeant. I worked as a radio communications specialist in the air medical evacuation, in the Air Force on the National Guard side. I was never active duty but I had active duty periods. I deployed six times in wartime environments including Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, Saudi Arabia and Oman. I worked on countless humanitarian efforts – after Hurricanes Katrina, Ike, Gustav and Maria, and other visits to Panama and Honduras.
I maintained communications jobs on the civilian side including the med-evac team at Nemours Children’s Hospital and Chester County 911 Center Dispatch. But I really enjoyed the volunteer work so I worked to make this a career.
IN: Through all this, you’re also a mom.
Colón: My 19-year-old daughter, Shayna Ariel, is a second year nursing student at Temple University. She works and is a full-time student. She commutes so she can be a patient care tech at Christiana Hospital.
I love being a mom. To have a mom that was deployed so much, and then for her to have that free big-hearted spirit made her a big support system for me.
She is one of my biggest cheerleaders. She won’t tell me often, but it was cool to hear her say one time that her mom was a rock star. I’ve heard her say, “She’s badass. She can go from boots to high heels.”
Both my parents live here in Delaware as well as my two sisters. My daughter took turns being raised by a little bit of everyone and everyone contributed a little piece to her personality. Her father and I have one of the best co-parenting relationships I know of. Every time I deployed he was there and he had my parents and my sisters to help.
IN: Who is your dream artist if you had all the right resources for next year?
Colón: Maybe for the 45th, I’d like to book La India. She’s a powerhouse—all women empowerment and music that is iconic from back in the day and today.
IN: At the end of the day, when you get in your car, what's playing on your speakers?
Colón: Mondays I do Christina Perri. Friday I play everything country. During the day, I hit shuffle, so today I was in a full blown Brett Young vibe and switched to my Christina Perri channel, which is all women, all empowerment.
Right now I’ll probably put on Mark Anthony.