Sandra Castro may be a Colombian-American with a successful pet-sitting business, but she also spends half the year preparing for one of the biggest festivals in the country, which she helped to found. Now in its third year, the Festival Cubano in Chicago is the largest Cuban festival in America, and is now catching up with the popular alternative music festival, Lollapalooza. They will both take place in the windy city next weekend, August 4th and 5th.
This year, the festival will definitely have a lot of “azucar! In addition to having another star-studded lineup, including Isaac Delgado, Jose Alberto “El Canario,” Celia Cruz All Stars, and Tito Puente, Jr., the Festival Cubano is collaborating with The Celia Cruz Foundation to showcase memorabilia of the late salsa star.
“Being that she frequented Chicago many times, I think it’s important to have her presence there,” says Omer Pardillo, founder of The Celia Cruz Foundation. “I’m very proud to be her ex-manager and keep her legacy alive.”
Today, Pardillo hosts a weekly radio show “Azucar!, Celebrating the legacy of Celia Cruz”, on Sirius XM and represents the estate of Celia Cruz. He says he will be bringing with him some of Cruz’s items to the Festival, including original photographs, records, and probably a pair of shoes, among other things from his private collection.
Pardillo adds that Cruz did a lot of community work in her more than 40-year career, and since Cruz is the guest of honor at this year’s Festival, so is her legacy of philanthropy.
“We just partnered with The Chicago Cuba Project — an oral history project dedicated to documenting the lives of Cuban immigrants in the Chicago area,” says Castro. “They will be at the Festival to do catalog interviews for a future date, and we’ll be giving part of our proceeds to help fund the project.”
Castro, 39, says she and the other two co-founders of the Festival, her brother Rainier, 33, and George Herrera, 30, had some resistance from the Latino community at first.
“People said, ‘You are young kids, what are you trying to do?’ We just wanted to show our love and pride of Cuban culture,” says Castro. “It means a lot to me. I don’t know why…I always collected old Cuban music from the 40’s and 50’s. For me it’s really about the music. I’ve never been to Cuba.”
In the first year of the festival’s existence, to the surprise of the young founders who only had four months to prepare, 120,000 showed up over the two-day weekend.
Castro says it’s hard for her to explain in words, but she just wants to be able to share with others something she loves so much.
“We strive to be very interactive,” says Castro. “We want people to leave in having an experience.”
She says the Festival program offers not only musical entertainment, but drum circle workshops, an Orisha dance troupe dancing randomly through the park, a bilingual storyteller for kids, arts and crafts, and even Zumba.
“We ask people who they want to see on Facebook,” says Castro. “That’s how we choose our headliners. This year people asked for Isaac Delgado and a whole house segment. We’re trying to do some cross-generational stuff to educate and preserve the Cuban culture.”
She says the festival tends to attract toddlers through 90-year-olds, and they hope to be able to take the festival to more cities all over the U.S. in the near future.
“That’s what we want,” she says. “We want there to be an exchange between generations – past, present and future. We have to pass the torch to the next generation.”