Salsa, Live Music, Cool Tech and Even A Greased Pole Contest At Betances

By Seth Daniel

The longest ongoing Latin American Festival will once again march through the South End’s Villa Victoria neighborhood this weekend, as the Festival Betances celebrates another year of culture and neighborhood fun from July 15-17.

The Festival Betances is the annual signature arts event for IBA Boston, based on Shawmut Street, and the festival will occupy Betances Court in Villa Victoria all weekend with a wide variety of music, domino games and inter-generational fun.

The Festival has been a part of the South End every summer since 1973.

“The arts from the beginning were a part of IBA’s mission and purpose,” said Vanessa Calderon-Rosado, CEO of IBA. “Our founders saw the arts as a wonderful way to build the community and openly express pride in our heritage and identity. It’s also a great way for building cross-cultural bridges to the greater community. IBA’s Center for the Arts is the largest Latino arts organization in New England. Part of that is our signature event – the Festival Betances. It’s the longest running community Latino festival in New England. There are other festivals that started earlier, but they took breaks in their operations. We’re proud to say we’ve been going strong in the South End since 1973 without a break. It is the flagship arts event every year for us.”

Yarice Hidalgo-Calderon, who organizes the festival, said they have a wonderful lineup for the three days, including a cooling area sponsored by Comcast that will teach people how to effectively use tablets and smart phones.

Friday will be known as the Bohemian Night, and will also feature a stellar Parade at 6 p.m. around Villa Victoria. That will be followed by low-key music from Edgardo Zayas.

“In our culture, that’s kind of a romantic or folkloric music,” said Calderon. “It’s also a tribute to our elders in the community by having low-key music they will truly love and enjoy.”

Saturday will be an all-day International Day affair from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. with a 3-on-3 basketball tournament at O’Day Park, the beginning of the popular Domino Tournament in Betances Plaza and several youth activities.

Music begins at 2:45 p.m. with Fabian Torres and his orchestra. Other acts include:

•3:30 p.m. N.T. DJ Scooby Doo

•4 p.m. R.C. Lenta Dance/Titan Majerettes

•4:35 p.m. Gilenny Gi Bachata

•5:15 p.m. J Montez Hip Hop

•5:30 p.m. Alex Alvear

•6:30 p.m. Mekanica Informal

•7:30 p.m. Jesus Pagan and his Orchestra

Sunday features what has become the most interesting event, organizers said, and that is the Greased Pole Competition. Always one of the highlights of the festival, teams of six try to climb a 40-foot pole greased with a special Vaseline concoction in a relay race to retrieve flags. They compete for a cash prize.

“I’m not exactly sure how it all came to be, but in Puerto Rico in the 1970s there was a popular TV show where they featured a greased pole and couples would try to climb the pole as a contest,” said Rosado. “The man would try to climb the pole and beat the other couples. All of the couples were about to be married, so the winner would have their wedding paid for by the TV show. It was very popular when we started our festival, so many believe they took the popularity of the show and used it here. In our contest, we’re not paying for anyone’s wedding, but they do compete for a cash prize and it is a lot of fun every year.”

Sunday, which is also Puerto Rican Heritage Day, also features the finals of the Domino Tournament and much more music.

Highlights include:

•2 p.m. Mambo Magic

•3 p.m. Latin Logic

•5:20 p.m. Latin Angels Dance Group

•5:30 p.m. Jorge Arce Bomba/Plena

•6:20 p.m. Presentation of Awards, raffles

•6:45 p.m. y Mas Salsa

Rosado said IBA was founded in the 1970s as a pushback to the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s plan to bulldoze the neighborhood. Organizers came together to save the lively neighborhood, which had a large Puerto Rican population.

After winning that fight, IBA became the designated developer for the Villa Victoria. Now a Community Development Corporation, they oversee 521 affordable housing units.

Though they were initially just a housing organization, Rosado said they quickly realized there were many more needs in the neighborhood that needed to be addressed.

That gave birth to the arts component, as well as educational components and the founding of the South End Community Health Center – among many other services provided.

The festival is named after Dr. Ramon Emeterio Betances, a 19th Century patriot in Puerto Rico who pushed for independence from Spain.

“He was a true hero in Puerto Rico,” said Rosado. “He was a Renaissance man who was a physician, an abolitionist, an essayist, a poet and a champion of Puerto Rican independence. We named the festival and the plaza after him where the Festival Betances is held every year.”

The full festival lineup can be viewed at www.ibaboston.org.

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