Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month At These 9 Iowa Festivals

Photo via Latino Heritage Festival and Ruben Rodriguez

By Amie Rivers

September 12, 2023
National Hispanic Heritage Month is held in the US every year from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 as a celebration of the history, cultures and contributions of Americans whose ancestors came from the nations of Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America and Spain.

It began in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week, and was expanded in 1988 to cover a 30-day period.

Why the overlap between two months?

Sept. 15 is significant as the independence day of five Central American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mexico’s independence day is Sept. 16, and Chile’s is Sept. 18.

But Día de la Raza—which honors the people whose cultures were nearly destroyed as a result of the conquests of Christopher Columbus and his ilk—is widely celebrated across many Latin American countries on Oct. 12, which is why the month overlaps to include it.

Latinos make up nearly 7% of the Iowa population as of 2020, making it the largest ethnic minority in the state. The vast majority of them, 72.2%, were born in Iowa or the US. For those who weren’t born here, the majority were born in Mexico.

The counties with the highest proportions of Latinos are:

  • Crawford (30.4%)
  • Buena Vista (27.5%)
  • Marshall (24.9%)
  • Muscatine (18.8%)
  • Woodbury (18.6%)

Plenty of fun already started in the state this month (and Hola Iowa has a great list here,) and other cities hold their Latino celebrations at different times during the year (hello, Waterloo and Iowa City!) But there’s plenty more as Hispanic Heritage Month kicks off. Here are some big ones:

Fort Madison Mexican Fiesta – Sept. 14-16

When: 4 p.m. Sept. 14 and 15, 8 a.m. Sept. 16

Where: 35th Street and Avenue Q, Fort Madison

Admission: Free

Fort Madison has been putting on a citywide fiesta celebrating Mexican Independence Day since 1921. More than a century later, it’s grown into a three-day festival. Besides food, there’s a carnival, vendors, live music, a 5K run, fashion show, arm wrestling and bags tournaments, kids activities and more.

More information: https://www.fortmadison.com/event/102nd-annual-fort-madison-mexican-fiesta/?instance_id=3720

Fiesta Cultural de Clarion – Sept. 16

When: Saturday, Sept. 16 (noon-8 p.m.)

Where: Gazebo Park, Clarion

Admission: Free

Unlike the previous event, Fiesta Cultural de Clarion is Iowa’s newest Mexican Independence bash. Bring the lawn chairs and enjoy a margarita tent, a salsa tasting contest (best salsa wins $50!) and a Prince and Princess Contest for children 3-6 years old, along with plenty of food, games and performances by Los Aliados as well as Mariachi Los Aguilares.

More information: https://www.facebook.com/groups/261159093167378/

Festival Latino of Cedar Rapids – Sept. 16

When: Saturday, Sept. 16 (11 a.m.-6 p.m.)

Where: McGrath Amphitheater, Cedar Rapids

Admission: Free

Put on by Latinos Unidos for Community Inclusion, the Cedar Rapids Festival Latino will feature live music, including by Iowa-based Parrenderos Latin Combo, along with mariachi bands and folklore dance groups from Mexico and Ecuador.

More information: https://www.facebook.com/TheLatinoFestivalOfCedarRapids/

Fiesta Latina 2023 and West Liberty Children’s Festival – Sept. 16

When: Saturday, Sept. 16 (Children’s Festival 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Fiesta Latina 3 p.m.-10 p.m.)

Where: downtown West Liberty

Admission: Free

West Liberty may be a small town in Iowa, but since the 1930s it’s had a growing Latino population, and this century it became the very first city in Iowa to be majority-Latino. So Fiesta Latina goes big: Put on by Latinos Unidos West Liberty, this year’s performers include Noryli, Grupo Ritual, Nomada and 5-time Grammy nominees Guardianes del Amor. There will also be folklore dancers, a DJ, raffle, food, games and more.

More information: https://www.facebook.com/latinosunidoswl/

Viva Ottumwa International Festival – Ottumwa (Sept. 16)

When: Saturday, Sept. 16 (noon-7 p.m.)

Where: Quincy Place Mall, Ottumwa

Admission: Free

Though it’s not strictly celebrating Latino heritage only—the event will represent cultures from Africa, Southeast Asia and Oceania, too—Latin American culture will have a presence among the vendors and exhibitors, as well as the Quad Cities Ballet Folklorico, which teaches Mexican culture through dance, and Son Peruchos of Des Moines, a band fusing Andean, South American, Latin and Caribbean music.

More information: https://www.meetottumwa.org/events/viva_ottumwa_international_festival_47379

Mexican Independence Day Parade and Fiesta – East Moline, Ill. (Sept. 17)

When: Sunday, Sept. 17 (noon-9 p.m.)

Where: Main Street at Runner’s Park, East Moline

Admission: Free

Okay, so this one’s not EXACTLY in Iowa, but it’s the major one in the Quad Cities, so we’re counting it. Put on by the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Local 5285, the parade will kick it off at noon with trophies for the three best decorated floats (the theme this year is Mexico), followed by festivities at Runner’s Park. Free-will donations will be taken for LULAC college scholarships for Quad-Cities students.

More information: http://gqchcc.chambermaster.com/events/details/lulac-5285-mexican-independence-day-parade-fiesta-2636

Iowa’s Latino Heritage Festival – Des Moines (Sept. 23-24)

When: Saturday, Sept. 23 (10 a.m.-11 p.m.) and Sunday, Sept. 24 (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.)

Where: Western Gateway Park, Des Moines

Admission: $5; free for children 11 and under

Featuring art exhibits, Latin food vendors, musical performances, dancers, cultural booths, children’s activities and more. There’s also a Civic Engagement and Education Soapbox, Qué Pasa Iowa?, which connects Iowa’s Latinos to candidates running for elected office (and will be livestreamed on Facebook).

More information: https://www.latinoheritagefestival.org/

Latinx Fiesta – Dubuque (Sept. 30)

When: Saturday, Sept. 30 (2-8 p.m.)

Where: Inside and outside Smokestack and courthouse parking lot, Dubuque

Admission: Free

Now in its second year, Latinx Fiesta is put on by the young professionals group Dubuque Unidos in and around the four-level music venue Smokestack on East Seventh Street. Get there early for the free tacos while they last, then enjoy food, art, vendors, music and more.

More information: https://www.dubuqueunidos.com/

Festival Cultural – Marshalltown (Oct. 15)

When: Sunday, Oct. 15 (noon-5 p.m.)

Where: West End Park, 13th Street District, Marshalltown

Admission: Free

Round out Hispanic Heritage Month with one last party in Marshalltown, where about a third of the population is Latino, at Festival Cultural put on by the Arts and Culture Alliance. The event will feature live music and dance performances, children’s activities, vendors and plenty of food.

More information: https://www.facebook.com/events/211675884529444?active_tab=about


by Amie Rivers


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  • Amie Rivers

    Amie Rivers is Starting Line's community editor, labor reporter and newsletter snarker-in-chief. Previously, she was an award-winning journalist at the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier; now, she very much enjoys making TikToks and memes. Send all story tips and pet photos to [email protected] and sign up for our newsletter here.


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