The two-day Carnaval festival in San Francisco, over 40 years strong, is known to bring in thousands of people to a 17-block radius in the city’s Mission District, with dozens of live performers, hundreds of vendors and a mega-boost to the economy for local business.
This year’s event, to be held May 29 and 30 from noon to 5 p.m., will not encourage hours of dancing or extravagant costumes and floats like it has in years prior.
Instead, organizers are providing culturally relevant resources to the Latino community. Vaccines, COVID-19 testing, groceries and on-site job interview opportunities are just a few of the free services available at this weekend’s event.
This year’s theme is “our existence is resistance,” in honor of the resilient spirit that community members kept with them despite adversity. In the beginning of 2021, 44 percent of all positive COVID-19 cases in San Francisco came from the Latino community, despite making up 15 percent of the city’s entire demographic, according to city data.
“The inequity is apparent, with Native Americans, African-Americans, and Latinxs disproportionately infected and impacted by the pandemic,” reads the event’s webpage. “Ultimately, our histories prove that we can overcome the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 if we stay strong along with the help from our families and communities. We owe it to our ancestors.”
Since the pandemic, community members have been pushing for equitable, low-barrier resources for working class or unemployed people in the Mission District. Roberto Hernandez, Artistic Director and Executive Producer of Carnaval San Francisco, partnered with over 60 services across the city that specialize in low-cost medical care, child education, financial assistance and more to put on the event.
“We hear every single day the pain and the suffering of our community, which majority are people who make minimum wage earnings and who do the hardest work, but yet have no retirement have absolutely no savings,” Hernandez said. “It’s very expensive to live in San Francisco, living from paycheck to paycheck. As you can imagine, take this minimum wage salary away from them, and they have absolutely no money.”
He is also bringing his passion project, the Mission Food Hub, to provide guests with culturally-competent grocery services. Last May, Hernandez began providing the essential ingredients for well-loved traditional dishes like enchiladas or sopas de pollo from his garage. The project’s since turned into a 300-person operation that serves thousands of families in the Mission.
Hernandez said that at least 70 percent of those volunteers once stood in the line of people that they now serve. It is everybody helping everybody whenever needed, he says. Often times, these outreach events like these feel small glimpses of what life was like pre-pandemic for him: little dance parties and shared cooked meals create a family atmosphere.
“Somebody in tech that volunteers with us said this is the best startup of San Francisco for the people, and the angel investors are the people,” Hernandez said. “313 angels that have stepped up to make this happen, and then all the donors, whether it be a foundation or an individual who donated $10.”
Though Hernandez says the celebration this year won’t be nearly as full-blown as years prior, there will still be cultural dancers and a few low-rider cars making an appearance. No food is served in the venue, but he suggests visitors to check out local restaurants in the Mission for good eats when they stop by. His personal recommendation: the enchiladas at Gallardo’s.
“Carnival is very grounded. Throughout the last 42 years, it’s grown organically because it’s the people from the community that are the ones who have created this magical event,” Hernandez said.