Latino Festival

Chicago comes alive with the spirit of its Latino community this month with three exciting festivals. Whether you head north, west, or south, you'll find vibrant neighborhoods celebrating with the music, food and culture that makes each event unique.

Chicago Latin Jazz Festival, (July 19-20, Humboldt Park Boathouse)

The festival features two days of music, dance and family activities, all in the pastoral splendor of the 200 acre park and its ponds, wetlands, ball fields and gardens. Friday night is headlined by Cuban percussionist Candido Camero, who played with jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie, and the Edwin Sanchez Project. Saturday daytime activities include music, storytelling, mask making, folk dancing and carnival art before a procession leads back to the Boathouse and closing performances from local favorites Joe Rendon and Friends and New York bandleader Bobby Sanabria's Quarteto ACHE.

Humboldt Park's namesake neighborhood is the center of Chicago's Puerto Rican community (be sure to check out the two flag sculptures that bracket the stretch of Division Street know as Paseo Boricua). The park itself is home to a number of food trucks serving Puerto Rican cuisine. One of the best is La Bomba Place at the park's western boundary. Grab a lechon sandwich and picnic on top of the adjacent hill for a panoramic view of the park and the Chicago skyline. If you're hungry after the fest, check out La Bruquena (2726 W. Division) for an inexpensive taste of Old San Juan, or Coco (2723 W. Division) a sleek place that takes traditional recipes and applies modern touches to create their signature dishes.

Celebrate Clark Street Festival (July 20-21, Clark Street between Morse and Estes)

Rogers Park is a diverse and eclectic neighborhood that hugs Lake Michigan on the city's far north side. The two block long street festival has music stages presenting local and international bands playing everything from rancheras to reggae, including ska-cumbia outfit Los Vicios de Papá, Mexico's Sangre Michoacana, Beto Jamaica Rey Vallenato from Colombia, and local legends Funkadesi, who combine sounds from India and the Caribbean with American funk in an irresistible dance groove.  After the last note is played on the street, check out nearby music venue Mayne Stage (1328 W. Morse) and its gastro-pub Act One for after-fest activities.

In addition to the music, there are arts & crafts, circus acts, food stalls and kids activities. If the stalls aren't enough, Clark Street is lined with taquerias. A good choice is La Cazuela (6922 N. Clark), which has a peaceful backyard patio in case you want to get away from the street action for a bit. Their tacos al pastor are especially tasty. A delicious alternative to tacos is Tamales Lo Mejor De Guerrero (7024 N. Clark), which makes the traditional corn-husk wrapped delicacy as well as Oaxaqueño style tamales wrapped in banana leaf. For cool refreshment, consider the mango, coconut, hibiscus and guava ice cream flavors of Paleteria La Monarca (6955 N. Clark).

Fiesta del Sol (July 25-28, 1400 W. Cermak Road)

Starting off as a block party over 40 years ago, this festival in the Pilsen neighborhood has grown into a major event that attracts over 1.3 million visitors over four days, making it the largest Latino festival in the Midwest. The family focused, alcohol free fest features live entertainment, local art, diverse cuisine, carnival rides and more, plus the crowning of Señorita Fiesta del Sol. Music on two stages presents dozens of bands and singers ranging from Mexican folkloric styles to Latin pop. Dance music is the focus of House of Sol, a DJ showcase dedicated to the city's homegrown sound of House music.

Pilsen, considered the artistic hub of Chicago's Mexican community, is filled with murals, galleries and studios. It is home to the National Museum of Mexican Art (1852 W. 19th St) possessing one of the country's largest Mexican art collections, including more than 7,000 pieces from ancient Mexico to the present. You'll also find art on the walls of several cafes (not to mention tasty sandwiches, baked goods and coffee), including Café Jumping Bean (1439 W. 18th St.) Vintage album covers from Mexico City decorate Chayote Mexican Grill (2007 S. Damen Ave) which serves some of the best tortas in the city.

Written by Don Macica / Arte y Vida Chicago 

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