For this reason, the owners of El Unico Restaurant, one of Union City's favorite Latin cuisine spots, wanted to give something back to the community they call home, and which has always supported them.
"This festival is really about the community," said Luis Recio, festival coordinator. "We've been here for about 15 years, and we have had a strong clientele and a strong friendship with our customers."
On Saturday, Aug. 27, 43rd Street between Hudson and Park avenues was closed off from noon to 8 p.m. for El Unico's community festival, which featured food and games for kids, and live entertainment by up-and-coming area artists.
"I wanted to give something back to the community because I love Union City," Recio said. "I have always wanted to throw a party in the street, and it's also my birthday!"
Planning for the event began about three months ago, and traveled quickly through word of mouth. Soon several community residents and local businesses such as Rite Aid lined up in support of the family, offering their services in any way they could.
"Fred Hinz of Rite Aid supplied us with the money for the flyers and banners," Recio said.
Rite Aid was also giving out free coffee thermoses and Frisbees that day.
"We've been a part of the community for many years, and these events give us the chance to interact with them [outside the store]," said Hinz, district manager for Rite Aid, located at 3601 Bergenline Ave.
Other donations to the Recio family came from corporations such as Vitamin Water and Snapple, as well as local businesses and vendors from the area such as Vianny, which is a home furnishing store.
"We have a lot of friends in the community, and they have just been really supportive," Recio said. "The city of Union City has also been very helpful in putting this all together, especially Lucio Fernandez and Mayor Brian Stack. It just shows that they really are for the community."
Recio, who was born in Texas, remembers first moving to Union City 20 years ago at the age of 5, and not knowing anyone.
"My mother wanted us to be brought up more [within our culture], and I do remember it was a very strange time for me," said Recio, who is of Cuban descent. "I was used to seeing trees, streams and rivers, and here there was just a whole lot of concrete."
Although Recio's parents were originally from Union City, the initial transition was difficult, but it was the support they received from the community that helped them along the way.
"We made friends quickly, and my father [Frank Recio] became very good friends with the former owner of the restaurant," Recio said.
El Unico Restaurant has been a landmark for many years in the Latino community from here to Miami, so when the original owners planned to sell, the Recio family offered to take up the reins.
"This place has a history; ask anyone from here to Miami, they know El Unico," Recio said. "Good food for decent prices. You can't ask for better."
Something for everyone
Families came from all over Union City and the surrounding municipalities to enjoy the afternoon together, as DJs kept the day going by blaring music, from merengue and bachata to rap and reggaeton. Many residents even stopped by El Unico, which was just around the corner, for a bite to eat or just to enjoy the different foods that were being prepared for the festival.
For the younger kids there were a merry-go-round, a bounce house, and a live petting zoo with rabbits, lambs and even chickens, which they could feed. Kids also had the chance to take free pony rides.
Older kids and adults got more enjoyment playing water games for prizes or dunking a baboon-masked volunteer in a tank, who was really getting into character. There were also several vendors from the area selling fresh produce and retail goods such as shoes, watches and beauty goods, among other things.
The festival also showcased some of the area's rising talent in the musical genres of rap and reggaeton; many were promoted by a new independent company called Nueva Leagua Records.
"All the artists are from Union City," Recio said. "Nueva Leagua is focused on artists in the community, who are hungry to make it."
Among the concert lineup were Grupo Elemento, solo artists Black and Big Prof, as well as duos like D. Mind and Vinnie Blak.
Performing a service
Of course, the day was not just all fun and games. The festival also performed a civic service by inviting the North Hudson Community Action Corporation Mobile Van to administer free health screenings.
"Many people in the area sometimes don't know where to turn if they're sick, or don't even know that they are sick because they don't have medical insurance," Recio said. "[Today] we offered free health screenings for cholesterol, sugar and high blood pressure for area residents."
The NHCAC Mobile Center runs seven days a week and services about 5,000 people a year.
"We see approximately 30 to 40 people a day [through the mobile center], and at this event we expect at least 100," said Margarita Ledesma, certified medical assistant.
Residents could also register for the WIC program that day, which offers medical and nutritional help for expectant mothers and young children. Information on breast cancer awareness was also being given out that day.