Latino Heritage and Music

by Miguel Balbuena

National Hispanic Heritage Month is a designated time of celebration of the cultures of Americans whose origins can be traced to Latin America and Spain. Each year it runs Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. Of course, Latinos should commemorate their ancestry every day of year, not just during a 30-day period. In the public domain, Syracuse had its Latin American Festival on Aug. 12 in Clinton Square and its Multicultural Block Party five days later at Skiddy Park.

Born this year was La Feria in the Fair, which was held from Aug. 25 to Aug. 27. in the formerly undeveloped western end of the 375-acre New York State Fairgrounds in the town of Geddes. This end had now been christened the New York Experience and its opening was made possible by the demolition of the Grandstand, whose successor was the Empire Experience Stage, which has similar technical features than the other main one, the Stan Colella Stage at Chevy Court.

The Empire Stage is located in a green space with three gazebos, sturdy lawn chairs, and picnic tables with umbrellas. This space is right next to an artificial lagoon with three water fountains in the middle of it, plus a Polynesian floating hut. It’s a nice place for families and others to frolic, and, when La Feria in the Fair was on, to enjoy the eight free concerts that took place on this raised platform.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum, as filmmaker Richard Lester would have put it. The most amusing moment of the three-day event occurred when an unexpected guest proceeded to burst onto the stage to try to one-up the musicians. He was sporting a golden mane, and wearing a navy business suit, a white dress shirt and a red necktie, and the artists called him Mister President while he was giving thumbs up to the public. He snatched the mic from the hands of one of the BombaRoc conga drummers and wouldn’t let go of it. People in the audience wondered aloud whether he was indeed the Occupier in Chief of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, who, on Jan. 20, became also the Commander in Chief of the White House. Some even speculated that he would take the opportunity on stage to make a major U.S. policy proclamation, such as the revelation of the existence of the Latin American Axis of Evil, composed of Mexico, Venezuela and Cuba, to top the Asian Axis of Evil, made up of North Korea, Iran and Iraq.

To help sort out the situation I had to remember what the real Donald Trump looked like when I first saw him when he made a splashy appearance on April 16, 2016, at the Pirro Convention Center in Syracuse, to the sounds of the Turner Broadcasting System’s “NBA on TNT” theme song, not of those of “Space Jam’s” as I mistakenly reported two weeks later. A thorough assessment, as to whether the individual in question was in fact the Leader of the Free World, had to take also into account his demeanor. He just couldn’t have resisted the contagious rhythm of bomba music played by the three BombaRoc drummers, and repeatedly shimmied his shoulders and shook his tushie to this beat. Given that such public conduct would have been unprecedented for the head of the Oval Office, I had to conclude that the subject on stage was not the real deal. Instead, he was as much of a fraud as Alec Baldwin’s impersonation of The Donald on National Broadcasting Company’s “Saturday Night Life.”

But the BombaRoc musicians proved to be good sports. They went along with the fake Trump even while they were having trouble getting the mic back from this impostor, who, as it turned out, was wearing a wig, which, to add insult to injury, had been manufactured in China, of all countries.

As the phony billionaire investor’s screed was winding down, he told the artists, “I support you Mexicans.” “We are Puerto Ricans, not Mexicans,” they corrected him.

Prior to the launch of La Feria in the Fair, appearances of Latino performers at the fair were few and far between. I recall attending a Santana concert at its Grandstand on Sept. 3, 1993. Afterwards, its Pan-African Village stage hosted a handful of Latin music acts. This year it had three: Los Claveles, UMB and Afrikan 2.

Something needed to be done to rectify this dire situation. Fortunately, CNY Latino, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, Molina Healthcare and Somos el Futuro were up to the challenge and banded together to sponsor La Feria, which was such a success that even a dog started dancing salsa directly in front of the stage while the La Muralla Orchestra was performing. The canine was wearing a white coat and glasses, and had a stethoscope hanging from its neck. Upon closer examination, it was Molina Healthcare’s mascot in a costume.

About the author: Miguel Balbuena is a writer in the academic, scientific, journalistic and literary fields (in the fiction and non-fiction genres).