Viva Salem brings family friendly celebration of Hispanic culture

Irma Coleman wants to share her Mexican heritage with her kids without having to travel.

After a year of planning, she’ll get her wish this weekend as the city of Salem hosts its first Viva Salem on Saturday, a free family celebration to kick off Hispanic Heritage Month.

“People are really, really excited about it. I have received so many phone calls and emails from interested parties that want to be there,” Coleman said.

Coleman is the city’s neighborhood program coordinator, a job that takes her across Salem to meet with neighborhood associations, community groups and other people who want a vibrant Salem.

She said she’s not the only one who’s wondered why Salem doesn’t have a Hispanic heritage celebration when cities including Woodburn, Portland, Hillsboro and Tigard have hosted annual events for years.

“The community really wanted something like this here in Salem,” she said.

She approached City Manager Keith Stahley with the idea shortly after he arrived in Salem last fall and got his blessing to take on the project.

The result is a day-long event Saturday, Sept. 23, in Riverfront Park that will bring local and regional performers to the stage, accompanied by vendors, artists and food. The event runs from noon to 6 p.m., with performances all day. More information is available on the city website.

“I hope that people will get that they can count on Salem to help highlight the rich culture that we have here in Salem: Hispanic, Latin, all the cultures,” Coleman said. “We hope that people will come to know Viva Salem as a place that they can go to celebrate with neighbors and family and also be able to gain knowledge and resources from all the different community partners that will be there engaging with them.”

The event received a $10,000 grant from Salem’s transient occupancy tax, a tax on hotel stays which pays for cultural and tourism events. Costs have been covered by sponsors and the grant, with no general city funds used.

Taking the stage first will be Antonio Huerta of Noche Cultural for a performance of charrería, or traditional Mexican livestock herding arts. Huerta will demonstrate rope tricks alongside a mariachi band.

Other performers include Salem band Sin Documentos, local dancers Casa de la Cultura Tlanese and Portland salsa band Barrio Mestizo.

“During this process I’ve gotten to really meet a lot of amazing people from Salem and outside of Salem as well,” Coleman said. Her goal was to highlight local talent while also bringing in new acts that Salemites may not have seen before.

The day is family-friendly, Coleman said, with free face painting, a bouncy house and activities and games for kids, including painting.

Many vendors are participating in a large community event for the first time.

Coleman hopes to make Viva Salem an annual city event.

‘We just want people to come and have fun,” she said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.