Things to Do in Fort Wayne and Beyond

Fiesta Fort Wayne is always a party

Dancing, music, food central to Headwaters event

Fiesta Fort Wayne returns to Headwaters Park on Aug. 13.

Wheat Williams

Whatzup Features Writer

Published August 3, 2022

Don’t get caught taking a siesta on Saturday, Aug. 13. It’s the height of summer and festival season, and for one day only, in the shade of the pavilion at Headwaters Park, it’s time once again for one of Fort Wayne’s most colorful and flavorful days, Fiesta Fort Wayne, the Hispanic and Latino festival. 

Held annually since the late ’70s, Fiesta Fort Wayne brings a day full of music, dance, and food from the many Spanish-speaking cultures represented by families in the region: those of not only Mexico, but also El Salvador, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Chile, and beyond. And it’s 100 percent family friendly.

No shortage of activities

To find out about this year’s festival, Whatzup spoke with Fernando Zápari, publisher and editor of Fort Wayne’s monthly Spanish-language newspaper El Mexicano, which has served our city almost 30 years. 

Zápari, originally from Mazatlán, Sinaloa, Mexico, on the Pacific coast, came to Fort Wayne in 1978 and founded El Mexicano in 1994. Zápari and El Mexicano have been leading the festival since 2018, with the support of many of Fort Wayne’s civic groups and corporations. 

On Aug. 13, Zápari will be joined by Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry and representatives from local groups, the Greater Fort Wayne Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the Indiana Commission on Hispanic and Latino Affairs, who will greet the crowds and speak in a brief ceremony early in the afternoon.

When you come to the festival, there will be a lot more than tacos and nachos. You can sample many different cuisines from Tex-Mex to the Caribbean, all from local vendors. 

The various cultures’ music and dance are enchanting as well. Central to the tradition is the Mexican Ballet Folklorico, where whirling dancers display the variety of dances, costumes, and music from across different regions, reminding us that Mexico is a vast country of 32 states, and not just one culture in itself. This year will feature the Mosaicos troupe from Indianapolis, the Ballet Folklorico Chicago, and the local Amaneceres de Mexico troupe. 

“They continue to keep our traditions alive here in Fort Wayne,” Zápari said.

As for music, DJs will get the crowd moving early on. 

Later, you’ll hear acts including local singer Javier Beltran performing mariachi, Mexican wedding band music, and a woman that goes by La Flor de Michoacan singing ranchera, the most popular form of music in Mexico from the mid-20th century.

Grupo Mexcal will play traditional cumbia, the dance music originally from Colombia, older than salsa, that has been adapted throughout the new world. 

“Grupo Mexcal are local to Fort Wayne,” Zápari said. “They’ve been playing for 40 years, at least.” 

Grupo Los Gatos del Tex-Mex and Grupo 4 Norteño play the contemporary northern Mexican dance music that started from a fusion with the European polka more than a century ago. Four local young men with guitars have formed Grupo Cuadro 260 to sing corridos, or ballads, with a modern flavor.

And, of course, there will be piñatas for the kids, and Malabarista de Circo, a small circus troupe from Columbus, Ohio will entertain.

Coming together

Zápari is happy to illustrate what Fiesta Fort Wayne means to him.

“The other day, we had a comment from a gentleman who said, ‘Oh, I’m coming because I love to find out and to learn more about your culture,’” Zápari said. “But in a very respectful way, I want to say, ‘Our culture is your culture.’ I love to say that we’re better together. 

“Latino and Hispanic culture has been all around in this country for hundreds of years. So we have been part of this American landscape for forever. American culture is our culture. It’s so vast, it’s so wide, and it’s so much more beautiful when we all learn from each other and we adapt to everybody’s different beliefs and customs. Some of us just want to stay in our own little territory and that’s OK, too, but it’s much better when we all come together.”

Growing population

Zápari loves to point out how generations of Spanish speakers have integrated into communities across the region. Fort Wayne has more than 20,000 Hispanics and Latinos, according to the 2020 census, making up just over 10 percent of the city’s population. 

“When I first started the paper, it was mostly Mexican-American,” he said. “That’s why the name of the paper is El Mexicano. But the demographics have changed so much. Whereas now Mexican-Americans account for probably 60 percent of the Latinos in Fort Wayne, but the rest are from all those Latin-American countries that I mentioned. Guatemala and El Salvador are probably second and third.”

Looking at smaller towns in the region, “Ligonier is a town about 45 miles away,” he added, that was “pretty much a ghost town” when he first went through in the 1970s. “Now you pass through it, and it’s vibrant.” The 2020 census reported 4,500 residents in the city, “and over 50 percent of those are Latinos.”

“Same with Goshen, Indiana,” with 34,500 people. “Very vibrant, and 30 percent of the population is Latino. It’s only an hour away.”

Donating proceeds

Fiesta Fort Wayne is proud to let you know that 40 percent of gate receipts will go to Fort Wayne’s firefighter and paramedic-led nonprofit group One World Medics, which refurbishes decommissioned ambulances from the region and donates them to emergency medical services in Mexico cities. 

This year, festival organizers will also donate $1 from each ticket sold for relief for orphans and war refugees in Ukraine. They are working with nonprofit groups including Windsong Pictures and Catholic Charities. The festival will also donate proceeds to support deaf and mute people in Cuba. 

Fiesta Fort Wayne, like other festivals and events throughout the season, wants to help connect Fort Wayne to the rest of the world.

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