Harlingen launching Fiesta de Piñatas Sept. 16 from downtown to Placita

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Ricardo Silva, left, along with Fred Uribe, who came up with the idea of Fiesta de Piñatas, prepare for the inaugural Fiesta de Piñatas Sept. 16 in Harlingen. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

HARLINGEN — Hundreds of dazzling piñatas are ready to burst open as organizers gear up for the city’s first Fiesta de Piñatas on Sept. 16, set to launch one of Harlingen’s biggest events stretching from downtown to La Placita.

After three months of planning, the festival will commemorate Mexico’s independence from Spain while celebrating the culturally iconic piñata whose artistry has become symbolic of Mexican-American culture.

“We invite the community to join us this Saturday as we kick off our first-ever Fiesta de Piñatas,” Mayor Norma Sepulveda said. “We invite families to come enjoy a day of cultural celebration with us and explore our mercado, savor delicious comida, enjoy the sounds from local musicians and join in on all the festivities as we commemorate Dieciseis de Septiembre.”

Big festival

While artists and chefs showcase their Mexican food, music, and art along West Van Buren Avenue from E Street to West Street, the festival will stretch to La Placita, where organizers are planning a piñata festival commemorating Mexican independence.

“This is our inaugural festival — one of our biggest festivals downtown,” Alexis Riojas, the Downtown Improvement District’s director, said. “We want to take pride in Mexican independence. We want people to come and experience the other side of downtown — La Placita.”

After the coronavirus pandemic’s outbreak in March 2020, the city stopped holding its events commemorating Mexican independence.

Along Jackson Street, property owner Bill DeBrooke, who launched the downtown area’s award-winning revitalization program more than 30 years ago, believes the new festival’s “got good potential.”

“We haven’t had a dieciseis event in Harlingen that’s been continuous,” he said. “This is the first time there’s really been a plan to do an event.”

Sparking fiesta

In June, Fred Uribe, co-owner of Don Gollito’s Restaurant, presented city officials with his concept of a piñata festival.

At first, he was planning to hold a fiesta featuring piñatas at a city park.

“It brings together the family, the community and the Mexican culture,” Uribe said.

City of Harlingen prepares to kickoff the inaugural Fiesta de Piñatas Sept. 16. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

Then officials began expanding the concept.

“This exciting event started as an idea by one of our local business owners has now grown into a wonderful community celebration for all to enjoy at Gutierrez Park,” Sepulveda stated.

For weeks, downtown shop owners and Harlingen school district students, along with artist Roque Delgado, have been crafting a wide array of brightly adorned piñatas for the festival.

“They show the vibrancy, artistry and creativity that is a mixture of the cultures we have here in the Valley,” Riojas said.

History of the piñata

Since he was a child, piñatas have captured Uribe’s fancy.

He’s even delved into the piñata’s historical, cultural and religious significance.

By some accounts, the piñata evolved in 14th-Century Europe before the Spanish brought the tradition to Mexico and Latin America, where it merged with Aztec and Mayan traditions.

In Mexico, the Catholic tradition was associated with Lent, with the piñata’s seven points symbolizing the seven deadly sins, while its candy represented temptation.

“It started with a jarro and it evolved into paper-mache piñatas with seven picos,” Uribe said. “After you break the piñata, you break the habit of the seven deadly sins — and you were free.”

Founders of Fiesta de Piñatas Fred Uribe, at left, and Ricardo Silva prepare for the city of Harlingen’s inaugural Fiesta De Piñatas celebration Sept. 16. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

From downtown to La Placita

Across West Van Buren Avenue from E Street to West Street, the festival will stage the music of Texas Dezire, Casandra Castillo and La Lexxion.

Along the stretch, the festival’s Comida Market will feature Mexican food like tacos, panchos, chalupas, birria and aguas frescas.

At the Mercado Market, artists will showcase their salsas, dulces, leather handbags, shoes and hats along with hand-crafted ceramics and sterling silver.

At 4 p.m., the Fiesta de Piñatas comes alive at Gutierrez Park.

An hour later, the Mexican Consulate’s office will perform the traditional Grito, commemorating Father Miguel Hidalgo’s call, leading to the start of Mexico’s fight for Independence from Spain in 1810.

Running to 9 p.m., the festival turns the piñata into the life of the party, giving children a chance to burst the brightly painted frames while vendors offer samples of Estella Jalisco beer and michelada mixes.

“Since I was young, I’ve always enjoyed piñatas,” Uribe said. “Bring your Mexican dress and your charro hat!”