Laura Ríos, 18, took the front of the stage as she swirled to a folkloric Mexican rhythm with seven other dancers, waving her skirt like a huge flag. The Philly-born millennial says she's "owned" her roots since she was 8, when her mother encouraged her to take dancing lessons at the Folklórico Yaretzi studio.
"You can own it, because you can express your traditions to other people and make them feel happy, because you remind them of their home and their culture — what they are used to seeing and being a part of," she said Sunday about her parents' heritage.
This was the fifth time Ríos had participated in the Mexican Independence Day Festival at Penn's Landing, which the studio has been invited to every other year. Her ribbon headpiece and the dress and the boots are parts of a costume — including the makeup — that takes 50 minutes to put on and three minutes to present to a clapping audience wearing the green, white, and red of the Mexican flag.
At least 15,000 attendees make it to the 20-year-old festival every year, said Alicia Kerber-Palma, the head consul of the Mexican consulate in Philadelphia, who added that it's one of the largest Latino events in the city. More than 30 vendors distributed litter bottles of horchata (a rice, water and milk drink), chips with hot sauce, tacos, quesadillas, churros, and elote (corn on the cob).
"It's an example that, when Latinos want, we can be entrepreneurs, have the will to prosper, and make a difference in the U.S. economy," said Kerber-Palma.
Los Gallos Restaurant has been attending for the last seven years, offering its festival-only piña colada on a pineapple.
"This is our tradition within the tradition," said Toño Jiménez, who manages the festival's stand and its 17 employees each year.
According to census data from 2012 to 2016, at least 18,000 Mexicans lived in Philadelphia.