Tianguis event to celebrate Mesoamerican music, culture at Riverfront Park

Omar Alvarado believes Salem needs more opportunities to showcase musicians, art and culture.

Those are experiences that people often venture to Portland for, the 30-year-old event producer said.

“We have so much potential. Why are we traveling to Portland and spending our money in Portland?” he said.

His answer is Tianguis de Salem, a free community fair and market scheduled for Saturday, May 11, at Riverfront Park from 2-6 p.m. People can get a free ticket in advance, or just show up day of.

It’s a celebration of Mexican and Mesoamerican culture highlighting small businesses and artisans, as well as a diversity of Mexican and Latin music. 

“Tiangui” means market in Nahuatl, the Indigenous Mexican language spoken by about 1.7 million people. Tianguis date back to pre-Hispanic times and serve as community gatherings, with open air markets drawing in people to eat, see entertainment and connect with their communities.

“We really loved that concept,” Alvarado said. “It’s something that’s very close to home for a lot of us.”

The event will draw about 50 vendors to the park, many of them smaller businesses who often aren’t showcased at places like the Salem Saturday Market. Alvarado originally planned the event for Northgate Park, but moved to Riverfront as the event size kept growing.

Alvarado produces music events with his business, Oddisee Entertainment, and also DJs. He conceived of the market about a year ago. At the time, he was doing a fellowship with the Woodburn-based Capaces Leadership Institute focused on economic development.

He thought a market would fuse many of his ideas for Salem together, connecting people across cultures, promoting entrepreneurs and highlighting diverse styles of music and art.

“We want to honor our ancestors, our culture. At the same time we want to provide this opportunity for the city to keep growing,” he said.

The event is free and family-friendly.

Headlining the event is Chan, a Latin dance DJ and producer from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Also performing is Grupo MC, a Woodburn modern Mexican youth band; Espina Letal & DJ Lo, cumbia and funk from Portland, and Sale’s DJ Ohm, who mixes Latin indie sounds with tropical beats.

Alvarado said he wanted to highlight Mexican and Latin music beyond the traditional mariachi that often features at cultural events, focusing on genres like cumbia, funk and metal.

“There’s a little bit more Latino music out there … that doesn’t get highlighted as much,” he said.

Tianguis received a $10,000 grant from Salem’s cultural fund, which uses hotel tax money to promote events that generate tourism to the city.

Alvarado said he hopes to make the event annual.

“We definitely want to make everybody feel at home,” he 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.