Diversity is what makes Jersey City unique, said Joan Moore, special events coordinator for the Jersey City Department of Cultural Affairs.
"Ethnic festivals have really become a part of the city's great tapestry of diversity," Moore said. "Children look forward to fun, games, face painting and giveaways, to which we at the Mayor's Tent are devoted. The enthusiasm has increased from year to year."
She added, "The committees as well as the constituents have come to regard our ethnic festivals as a positive part of life in Jersey City and something to look forward to, from one event to the next."
Moore said that the city sponsors between 13 and 16 ethnic festivals a year and will help with the organization of any new ones if possible.
"For anyone who cares to have an event, we will help where we can," she said. "We at Cultural Affairs are constantly called upon to sponsor or co-sponsor, or just assist in planning by the different ethnic, civic or religious groups with their events. It is a great experience to take part in the various cultures, to feel the pride of the people. There are plenty of things to learn and experience."
Here's a look at some of the upcoming festivals in Jersey City this year:
Jersey City resident Rachael Persaud, who was born in Trinidad and Tobago and whose parents are both Guyanese, goes to Jersey City's West Indian/Caribbean Festival "every year." She usually attends with a group of West Indian friends, but she says that this year, she plans to bring along some new friends who aren't West Indian.
"There are all kinds of foods to choose from," she said, describing popular West Indian dishes like curry chicken and roti, jerk chicken, oxtail and rice, and polourri. She also said that more familiar American foods such as barbequed chicken, fried rice and shish kabob with pita bread are usually offered for those who may not be brave enough to try the foreign cuisine.
"The food is the best because with every bite you think of life back home in the islands," Persaud said. "The aromas really take you to the islands."
Live music and dancing are featured at the festival, along with stands selling CDs, jewelry, clothes, T-shirts, flags, and items with the different West Indian flags or logos on them. Visitors to the festival can get temporary tattoos and their faces painted as well.
"I would recommend that people go to the West Indian festival at least once, especially if they're not West Indian," said Persaud. "I think that it's a great experience for those that may not know anything or much about the Caribbean. If they do go, they are bound to find at least one thing that they like."
She added, "Whether it's the food, music, or just the unity of the people, you will definitely remember the first time you went."
The 2005 West Indian/Caribbean Festival will be held on July 23 at Exchange Place from 2 to 10 p.m.
La Festa Italiana
Established in 1885, Holy Rosary Church on Sixth Street was the first Italian Parish in New Jersey. The Parish celebrates its annual La Festa Italiana in August, on Sixth Street between Brunswick and Monmouth streets. The feast honors the veneration of Our Lady of Assumption (Aug. 15), as well as the feast day of St. Rocco (Aug. 16). The festival also provides an opportunity for old friends and neighbors to reunite.
Phil Fusciello, co-chair of La Festa Italiana, has been using the slogan "Come back home to Holy Rosary" for more than 10 years. It's an appropriate saying, he says, because former parishioners from as far away as Massachusetts and Florida fly in for the event.
The celebration of mass is a traditional portion of the festival, as well as a devotional procession through the streets of Downtown Jersey City. Masses are held at 11 a.m. on the two feast days.
"Following the mass, they take the appropriate saint [statue] out of the church and put it on a roller and take it through the streets," said Fusciello. The event typically culminates in the church's garden with refreshments. "It's a very religious, spiritual, and convivial, community-oriented event," he added.
La Festa Italiana is an excuse for old friends to get together and reminisce about the "good ol' days," said Fusciello.
"You have people who are emotionally tied back to their home parish," he said. "The whole concept was that it was bringing people back to their home parish."
Traditional Italian food such as zeppoles, "arancini" (deep-fried ball of rice with tomato sauce and peas in the middle), panini, and pizza can be found during the festival, which takes place from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. each night. Rides and games are available for children, as well as live musical entertainment.
The parish may be predominantly Italian, but Fusciello says that people of all ethnicities are welcome to the celebration.
"It's a drawing, it's Jersey City," said Fusciello of the makeup of people who attend La Festa Italiana. "It's a patchwork of everybody who now lives in Jersey City."
La Festa Italiana will take place from Aug. 10 to 14. Visit www.holyrosarychurch.com or www.lafestaitaliana.com, or call Holy Rosary at (201) 795-0120 for more information.
Currently in its 45th year, the Jersey City Puerto Rican Heritage Festival and Parade will take place over three days this summer. The festivities are scheduled to begin with flag-raising ceremonies at City Hall and at the Hudson County Courthouse. The festival itself will be held from August 12 to 14.
"This year is going to be a good year," said Alberto Anton, vice president in charge of the festival and parade. Anton, a Jersey City resident, previously served as vice president in 2000 and 2003, and is looking forward to this summer's celebration of the city's rich Puerto Rican heritage.
"We'll be providing music, live entertainment, cultural entertainment, amusement rides for the kids," Anton said, noting that "food and non-food" vendors will be on hand to visitors, offering Puerto Rican cuisine and crafts. As of press time, the location of the festival had not been determined. Last year's location, 18th Street, was being considered, although festival organizers were searching for alternate spots.
The theme of this year's festival and parade will be "Honoring our Puerto Rican Military Heroes." The Grand Marshal of the parade will be Jaime Vasquez, a Purple Heart recipient from Jersey City.
"He's a veteran, and being that our theme is 'Honoring our Puerto Rican Military Heroes,' he has been such," Anton said. "Not just from a military standpoint, but from a civil standpoint, fighting for Puerto Ricans' rights for the community."
A new highlight in this year's festival will be a contest to find the community's best rice pudding - or "pan dulce" - which will be judged by local chefs. Anton added that he hopes to incorporate similar contests, such as the best flan or rice dishes, in order to bring the community closer together.
"It's a showcase of our culture to the rest of the community, especially because we have folks 'immigrate' to Jersey City from the rest of the metropolitan area," Anton said. "We are a piece of the fabric of Jersey City, and we've been here for a great number of years."
The Jersey City Puerto Rican Heritage Festival will be held Aug. 12 from 6 to 10 p.m. and Aug. 13 to 14 from noon to 10 p.m. For more information, e-mail email@example.com.
Break out the shillelagh, don your best green outfit, and raise a pint of Guinness at the Jersey City Irish Festival, which will be held this year on Sept. 24 in Exchange Place. The festival occurs months after the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade, which was held in March.
Lifelong Jersey City resident Mary Kate Leahy, who won the Miss Claddagh 2001 crown at that year's St. Patrick's Day Parade, attended the 2004 Irish Festival with a group of friends. The festival featured "American" food such as hamburgers, as well as traditional Irish fare such as corned beef sandwiches.
"They had bagpipes playing, beer stands of course, all different types of Irish knick-knacks - little statue things, books, jewelry - and they had face-painting for kids," Leahy said.
Leahy described the scene as very jovial. "Everyone was talking and laughing," she said. "I ran into a lot of people I knew and I got to catch up with people."
Leahy added, "Everyone was in a really good mood. It was just a relaxing day when we could all have a good time."
Jersey City's Irish Festival will be held on Saturday, Sept. 24, from noon to 6 p.m. in Exchange Place. Admission is free. For more information about the festival and the parade, visit www.saintpatricksdayparade.com/jc_festival.
Other ethnic and cultural celebrations in Jersey City in 2005 include the Philippine (June 26), Dominican (Aug. 7), and Greek (Sept. 18) festivals, which will all be located at Exchange Place.
Festivals at other locations include Indo American (Aug. 13 at Leonard Gordon Park), Fiestas Patronales Music Festival (Sept. 17 to 18 at Jersey Avenue), Korean Festival (in September at Leonard Gordon Park), Chinese Festival (in October, Liberty State Park), Italian Festival (in October at Journal Square), African-American (in September at Martin Luther King Plaza) and Polish Festival (Aug. 28 on Sussex Street).
Contact the Jersey City Division of Cultural Affairs at (201) 547-4325 for more information.