The smell of roasting carnitas wafts through the air and you meditatively take a draw on your pineapple Jarritos. What to do next? The rowdy noises of a soccer tournament beckon, but then again, so do booths full of silver jewelry and bits of amber. And then there's the pinatas. Lovely, colorful papier mache pinatas filled to the nostrils with candy and other assorted trinkets. OK, sure, pinatas are for kids -- but when's the last time you got to bash something with a stick and not go to jail for it? As you mosey on over to where the salsa dance demonstrations are taking place, a cold breeze hits the side of your face and you wish you'd brought a sweater.
This sure ain't Puerto Vallarta.
In fact, it's Post Falls. And if North Idaho seems like an odd place for a major Latino/Hispanic festival to be taking place, think again.
"North Idaho has such a stigma as being racist, and it's a stigma that's not deserved at this point," says Fred Gabourie, a Post Falls attorney and one of the original organizers (along with Tim Bradley, Marilyn Delgado, Troy and Maria Gaines, and George and Edna Martinez) of the La Fiesta/Cinco de Mayo. "In fact, look at what the regional tribes have done with the Powwow. That really opened the doors for events like ours and, in a lot of ways, we're following in their footsteps."
Gabourie says that the first Fiesta -- which endeavors to include Mexican, Latin American and South American cultural traditions -- magnificently exceeded all expectations last year and that several thousand visitors are being prepared for this year.
"It's really a big cultural event. There was a huge response from the people who came last year, and one of the things people really appreciated was that it's something that brings Caucasians and Latinos together. That's not something that's ever been done here before."
At least not officially and with so much hullabaloo. The day-long Fiesta includes (but is not limited to) salsa dance demonstrations, food vendors, jewelry crafters, Mexican artwork, 25 pinatas ripe for the bat, two eating contests (jalapeno and burrito, respectively), Clifford the Big Red Dog, Garfield from Silverwood, Jimbo the Clown, the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard, Aztecan folkloric dancers and soccer.
"The La Fiesta Cup Pro Soccer Game is a real big deal," says Gabourie, who adds that there will also be a soccer clinic for the kids. "Soccer is huge in Latin America, and we'll have not only four semi-pro teams but just the other day Washington State University's soccer team called and asked if they could come. So they may be there, too."
While the day is all about family fun, there's a certain amount of community pomp involved, too. Post Falls Mayor Clay Larkin will open the event with welcoming remarks in both English and Spanish, followed by an invocation/blessing by Chelo Martinez of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane and a presentation by Francisco Salinas, director of multicultural affairs for the University of Idaho, on "The Meaning of Cinco de Mayo" (hint: it's not about $2 Cuervo shots and half-price appetizers at every bar in town).
Still, the significance of the day is in no way prohibitive of a good time, and in addition to all the folkloric dance, soccer activity, face painting and muy bueno eats, things really get hopping at 9 pm when the Latin Dance Party (Baile) takes over. Bands include Wenatchee's Group Fugazz, Sunnyside's Group Efikazz and Spokane's own Group Los Vigiles. From what Gabourie remembers of last year's event, it's a red-hot salsa extravaganza with special reduced ticket rates for women attendees.
Proceeds from the event go towards college scholarships for Latino/Hispanic youth. In many cases, performers and organizers are volunteering their time and talent.
"We're kinda killing three birds with one stone here," Gabourie sums it up. "We're gathering funds for college scholarships, we're working to overcome the stigma that North Idaho has in regard to minorities, we're breaking some barriers and of course, it's all about having a good time."