Pilsen celebrates the 50th anniversary of Fiesta del Sol with honorary new name for part of Blue Island Avenue

By Irvin Ibarra, Staff Reporter

What began as a celebration for the approval of Benito Juarez Community Academy has become an annual festival attracting people from across the city.

The origins of Fiesta del Sol date back to 1972 as a way for the Pilsen community to celebrate the city’s approval of a new high school. The first actual festival — organized by the Pilsen Neighbors Community Council, a nonprofit organization based in the neighborhood — would take place along Blue Island in 1973 with the official opening of the high school to come in 1977.

On Thursday, the first day of the festival, a section of Blue Island Avenue between West 21st and West Cullerton Streets was renamed Honorary Avenida Fiesta del Sol, marking the area where it all began. This year the festival is being held along Cermak Road between Ashland Avenue and Morgan Street.

“We’re a small staff that together with a lot of volunteers from the Pilsen neighborhood put together the festival,” said Alessandro Bortolussi, the communications coordinator for Fiesta del Sol. “So I call it a community festival done by the community for the community.”

This year is the festival’s second year back since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and last year Fiesta del Sol garnered roughly 1.2 million people in total attendance.

Fiesta del Sol provides resources for it’s attendees like free COVID-19 testing and vaccination, free immigration consultation with an attorney and information for buying a home if undocumented. For the first time the festival offers a cannabis informational expo to educate on cannabis and provides resources on how to start the process to clear one’s record of a minor drug charge.

These expos and resources are a small portion of the year round social justice, health, and educational work done by Pilsen Neighbors, which is largely funded by Fiesta del Sol.

“It’s free entrance, everybody can come and enjoy the Latino traditions that we have here,” said Bortolussi. “But we also invite all [people], white, Black, Brown, everybody’s welcome to come to the festival.”

Fiesta del Sol runs until Sunday, July 31.