BY BENJAMIN FANG
Thousands of residents and visitors walked through Jackson Heights, taking in the sights, smells and tastes of the neighborhood last month, as the 82nd Street Partnership hosted the seventh annual Viva La Comida, a food and musical festival that celebrates the neighborhood’s diversity.
Local restaurants and vendors from Latin American, Asian and Afro-Caribbean roots showcased their food, while performers entertained a large crowd of attendees throughout the event.
“It was a lot of fun. In my opinion, it was the best Vivia La Comida we had to date,” said Leslie Ramos, executive director of the 82nd Street Partnership. “That was the feedback I received from people who attended, as well as our vendors and residents in the neighborhood.”
Though Ramos doesn’t have an official count, she estimated that anywhere between 3,000 to 4,000 people attended the festival. By the time she went around to vendors near the end of the event, many of them sold out all of their products.
“We had a nice-sized crowd straight from the beginning,” she said.
Seeing so many people eagerly awaiting Viva La Comida symbolizes how important it is to residents, Ramos said. A participant told her that the festival is a rare chance for community members to express and enjoy their cultures.
“Viva La Comida is an opportunity for them to dance all day, feel proud of where they come from and feel the energy of the community,” Ramos said. “I think it’s beautiful what we’ve created.”
Local businesses feel the effect as well. Ramos said some restaurants report that Viva La Comida is the “best day they have all year.” New restaurants are also introduced to new clientele. In the four years that Ramos has run the event, she noted that the number of businesses on 82nd Street that participate has increased.
“Now, almost everyone is participating,” she said. “When they don’t, they regret it.”
Viva La Comida also brought together partnering organizations, such as the Queens World Film Festival, which hosted a pop-up event at the festival. The John Lennon Education Tour Bus was also at the celebration. The bus features a state-of-the-art mobile studio and video recording and production facility, where young people can participate in free digital workshops.
Ramos said the idea excited many residents, some of whom grew up listening to The Beatles.
“It was an opportunity for many kids and people of all ages, for the first time, to see a professional studio,” she said.
She added that Viva La Comida was the “perfect location” for the education tour bus because like John Lennon, Yoko Ono and The Beatles, the festival is also about love, peace and community.
“That’s something our organization tries to achieve,” Ramos said. “I think we bring more to enjoy and respect each other’s cultures.”