How Local Festivals in Milwaukee Are Changing in 2021

Milwaukee, WI – Two weeks ago marked a historical moment in Milwaukee history. The Milwaukee Bucks led us to our first NBA championship in fifty years, decided by Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 50 point streak in the second half. It was a joyous moment for Milwaukeeans everywhere, particularly for the thousands of people that stood outside the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee’s Deer District downtown. In the week leading up to the deciding Game 6, Facebook and other social media outlets claimed that attendance capacity would go up from 59,000 to 65,000. Memes took shots at that decision, echoing Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue” changing the lyrics to “We’re gonna lockdown 2: Electric Avenue – Infection rates are higher!” 

New cases of COVID, this time in the form of the delta variant, have been springing up all over the United States, making up 83% of the cases in the US, according to the CDC.Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, says, “The United States will not lock down again to curb COVID-19, but things are going to get worse as the delta variant fuels a surge in cases, particularly among the unvaccinated. A sufficient percentage of Americans have now been vaccinated to avoid lockdowns.”

Still, the worry is widespread and this does nothing much to assuage the fears of many Americans, particularly the ones who see events like the attendance of the NBA championship in Milwaukee cause for alarm. Milwaukee was once named the “City of Festivals” as part of a campaign to ramp up tourism in Cream City. The city stands on a precipice of something big, and is ready to be the summer town. 

Two festivals made a return to the scene this past weekend. The Puerto Rican Family Festival, Milwaukee’s youngest festival, came back on August 1st after being canceled last year due to COVID. The permits, acts, vendors and location had to be secured quickly, and they pulled it off. It is a testament to the organizational abilities of everyone involved, as well as the love for the city. The festival was organized by Victor Huyke, editor-in-chief of  local Latino newspaper El Conquistador and community organizer Yussef Morales. Huyke was wary of bringing the festival back this year. “Many people of color kept working throughout the pandemic and lost their lives doing it. We intend to honor those people at this year’s festival,” Huyke said. 

The flyers and all the promotional work for the festival said the same thing – “Masks are required for unvaccinated individuals, and are optional for those who have been vaccinated.” 

Another new festival added to the Milwaukee canon is Frida Fest at the Farmhouse Paint and Sip. The festival pays homage to the great Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, whose surrealist and social justice-themed paintings have inspired artists throughout the decades. There are themes of healing and feminism that run deep in her work, with strong messages of perseverance and gumption.

The festival is the brainchild of the husband-and-wife team Jesus and Thaime Nanez, owners of Chucho’s Red Tacos, one of the food vendors that will be open that day. The Farmhouse Paint and Sip sits on S. 6th Street in a wide open, inviting area with picnic tables and repurposed barns and farm architecture. “We are very excited to get back to normal and bring this festival to the people of Milwaukee,” Jesus shared. 

 Speaking with festival-goers, many had different things to say. 

“I am wearing my mask because even though I am vaccinated, I don’t intend to get re-infected by the delta variant. I didn’t miss three weeks of work and pay once just to do it again,” says Jesus Morales, a cook at the Puerto Rican Family Festival.

“The lockdown is over, all of this delta crap is propaganda created by the left to keep us at home,” local car enthusiast and festival goer Anna Zavala said.

“Get out of my face,” another festival-goer said. 

Some say the shifting mask mandates are irresponsible. Milwaukee resident Alexander Thien told me, “So why isn’t there a new mask mandate? Why did the city do passive-aggressive politics and issue warnings saying ‘We advise you to wear masks’? All this does is cause panic and passes the buck again to local businesses and individuals instead of actually governing and supporting your population. No one in government seemed to have a mask problem the last few weeks when thousands of people were downtown spending money on Bucks stuff. All I’m saying is either mandate it or don’t. Don’t do this in-between nonsense.”

As for what people can do to combat the delta variant, Thien had one thing to say – “If you didn’t yet, go get the vaccine if you can.” 

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