2020 Feria Del Barrio to go virtual, honor unsung heroes of the pandemic

The event’s 36th edition, which is on Sept. 20, looks to be a bright spot in what’s been a rollercoaster year for the community, city and world.

A report by Nigel Thompson for Al Día.

One of the more memorable experiences of Julia Rivera’s last four years in Philadelphia was her first Feria Del Barrio.

“It is a sensory experience,” she said.

Once a year for the last 35 years, the intersection of Fifth and Lehigh streets in North Philadelphia’s Centro de Oro is transformed into a celebration of North Philadelphia’s Latinx community.

Rivera described the booming music, often bomba or salsa, mixing with the smell of food and the vibrant colors of artists showcasing their work to create a truly unique experience, especially for someone with Puerto Rican roots like her.

“It’s powerful,” she said. “If you’ve never been to the Latino community in North Philadelphia, I feel like you could really get a feel for how rich it is culturally in so many different ways just by attending.”

But this year’s “sensory” experience will be limited to what can be felt through a computer screen.

“That way we could reach as many people as possible, and hopefully bring some joy and an uplifting event to folks even if it’s just in their homes,” said Rivera.

With the loss of in-person events thanks to COVID-19, organizers have had to reinvent Feria for its 2020 edition. 

In place of the familiar “sensory” experiences is still the same celebration, but also recognition of the community’s resilience amid what’s been a trying year.

Usually, the annual Feria recognizes one unsung hero in the community for their work, but 2020 will see four individuals and one organization honored.

They are as follows:

  • Edilia Gomez O’Hara will get a posthumous award for her contributions to the arts and culture of Philly’s Latinx and Venezuelan communities.
  • Betsy Casañas, for her contributions in the city and beyond to Puerto Rican and Latinx art.
  • Harold Peter Watts for his contribution and commitment to fitness and economic development in the community as the owner of Watts Fitness Studio.
  • Reinaldo Melendez for his contribution and commitment to music and economic development in the community as the owner of Centro Musical.
  • Congreso Health Center for its commitment to the health and wellness of the surrounding community amid he COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

The performers will also be a slate of artists to boost the spirits:

  • Magdaliz y Grupo Cristol-Potpurri
  • Venezuelan Harpist, Eduardo Betancourt
  • Tony Mendez and Los Bomberos de la Calle
  • Tino Serrano Orchestra

Switching to virtual

Rivera said the scheduling for both the performers and honorees happened just over the last month leading up to the event.

For an in-person event that started planning back in January of 2020, the switch to virtual came only in July.

“It’s been definitely a learning process I think for everybody,” said Rivera.

She credited PhillyCAM as a major help to making Feria’s virtual transition as seamless as possible. All of the performances are pre-recorded and one pre-edited video segment will also play during the production set to premier on Facebook Live at 6 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 20.

In addition to premiering on the account of Taller Puertorriqueño, it will also be available to watch through the channels of all the organizers including Asociación de Puertorriqueños en Marcha (APM), Congreso de Latinos Unidos, HACE, and Raíces Culturales Latinoamericanas. 

In the end, like the community throughout 2020’s crises, Rivera said the organizations behind Feria have been just as resilient.

“We’re not going anywhere,” she said.

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