by Zaire Saunders
SF Carnaval’s Grand Parade is Saturday, May 28, in the Mission District
Celebrations penetrate the hearts of thousands when Carnaval comes around. People of all ethnic backgrounds and personal histories come together to dance, sing, pray and eat the many available treats.
If it’s your first experience with Carnaval, then keep reading to gain a deeper insight to the ins and outs of the celebration that spans nations across continents. I chatted with Rodrigo Duran to find out more about the event coming up. Check it out.
Zaire Saunders: Can you start by explaining the significance behind Carnaval? What exactly is it? Why is it important for SF to host their own?
Rodrigo Duran: Carnaval and the reason it’s celebrated has to do with Catholicism and celebrating before Lent. Europe brought it to the Americas and so the indigenous folk along with African folks combined traditions. So, San Francisco in the ‘70s, we had a melting pot here.
We had people from Trinidad, Panama, Brazil – plus from Central America – who celebrated in their home countries and wanted to have one in SF to highlight their culture and heritage.
Zaire Saunders: What role do you play in organizing SF Carnaval?
Rodrigo Duran: I’m the executive director of SF Carnaval. We are a non-profit and a team of four that produces that grand event with a parade for 40,000 people.
So I have to have all the permits in line. I make sure it remains free and comfortable for all who attend.
Zaire Saunders: How do you ensure SF Carnaval is a welcoming event and experience, while still keeping to its roots?
Rodrigo Duran: The simple answer is this: It’s all about taking up space. The beauty carnival is when it began, we had Black folks, Latino folks and white folks all learning about different cultures. That melting pot is the core of what makes Carnaval so special.
You won’t find any other parade that has a huge mix. You’ll hear samba and funk because of Oakland. You’ll see some Chinese folks who dance salsa better than some Cubans. We keep it vibrant because we stay true to the roots. The Black, Latino and white artists are what keeps it vibrant, unique and genuine.
Zaire Saunders: Can you tell us a little about what someone can expect attending their first Carnaval?
Rodrigo Duran: Just be ready to absorb different colors, costumes, and languages. Just be happy experiencing discomfort in a happy way. I mean, shit, you don’t know about being on the road with Trinidadians but they’ll be dancing and waving their flag right in front of you. Learn to be comfortable and have fun. They are gonna have fun so go ahead and jump up and down – dance.
Zaire Saunders: Where can we hear more about SF Carnaval? How can we keep up with it on our own?
Rodrigo Duran: We have our website where we will be putting out content with our headliners, maps and our vendors. You can follow us on our Instagram @carnavalsf and our public Facebook. Oh! We are partnering with the Department of Economic and Workforce Development to highlight the many businesses Carnaval positively impacts.
We are an economic driver, when Carnaval happens, it’s a huge money making machine. So look out for our website: carnavalsanfrancisco.org.
Zaire Saunders is the copy editor and reporter for the SF Bay View Community Journalism Program, which is funded by the California State Library.