Salsa music plays. The smell of bread, kababs and empanadas waft through the air. Colorful, flowing dresses and skirts catch the eye. For over 50 years, the Puerto Rican Festival has celebrated food, culture, dancing and beauty in downtown Rochester.
Founded in 1969, the festival recognizes the many Puerto Rican people who have settled in this region, and Rochester currently has the second largest population of Hispanics in the state. As the festival continues to grow, it draws thousands of visitors downtown, sparking growth in the focus of the festival. It may be named the Puerto Rican Festival, but the event welcomes any people of Hispanic descent (as well as non-Hispanic friends) in the region.
In 2021, the Puerto Rican Festival took place on two weekends at two different locations – Meet Me @ the 5 (aka, Parcel 5) and the International Plaza in the heart of the El Camino neighborhood.
The International Plaza is a Latin-themed event space and marketplace that opened in 2020 on North Clinton Avenue. Moving the Puerto Rican Festival to International Plaza put the celebration in the center of Rochester’s Latino community. Miguel Meléndez, chief community engagement officer at Ibero-American Action League and a Rochester City Councilmember, was instrumental in creating the space. Meléndez envisions a village hub where the community can socialize together with live bands, music and entertainment.
In 2021, the International Plaza held its first full season, and Meléndez said the response from the community was strong, with hundreds of visitors every weekend. In fact, visitors requested that International Plaza be open more. In response to the overwhelmingly positive reactions to International Plaza, the Plaza will be open to the community Thursday – Sunday starting this year.
Within International Plaza is La Marketa, where the community can come together with a performance pavilion, pop-up shops and retail kiosks selling food. Every Sunday is “Market Day” at the International Plaza — a joint effort between the City of Rochester and Ibero American Development Corp., that offers a different variety of vendors, performances and children’s activities from May through October. Meléndez notes that guests can expect new vendors every Sunday.
Other upcoming special events at La Marketa include celebrations for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Salsa Night, Zumbathon, domino tournaments, Fringe Festival performances and more. La Marketa at the International Plaza is a vital part of the El Camino community, and plans are also in the works to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the 2.2 mile El Camino Trail on Saturday, June 4th.
Dave Parfitt is a Rochester-area freelance writer.