After postponement, Carnaval will occur this year — it’ll just look a little different.
For 41 years, the San Francisco spectacle offered cuisine from all over Latin America, exhibits displaying handmade crafts, and a parade of dancers clad in bright, ornate costumes. But this year, the pandemic struck.
And it struck the Latinx community. Hard.
So, in 2020, the traditional weekend festival that occurs at the end of May has been moved to Sept. 5 and 6 and will offer free covid-19 testing, a job fair, education resources, housing referrals, and free groceries.
“Latino COVID-19 Healing & Recovery — Salud es Poder,” will run from noon to 5 p.m. that Saturday and Sunday at John O’Connell High School and at Alabama Street from 19th and 20th streets.
“Salud es Poder,” or Health is Power, captures the event’s main goal to heal Latinx residents, said Roberto Hernández, a Carnaval SF organizer since 1986 and one of the executive committee members of the pandemic-born Latino Task Force.
“The [Carnaval] Board of Directors and production team agreed that we need to recover and heal from this crisis,” Hernández said. “The stress and anxiety level is at an all-time high.”
Though the theme was decided upon pre-pandemic, the coronavirus infused it with new meaning. As of August 2020, Latinx residents make up more than half of city cases, despite making up only 15 percent of the city’s population. The fact that many Latinx residents are essential workers and some live in overcrowded conditions also bolstered the spread for Latinx people statewide.
Besides Carnaval SF’s main attraction — 1,000 free covid tests a day, thanks to community groups, the Department of Public Health, and Color — organizers also plan to host 20 other physical- and mental-health services and informational covid lectures.
Labor Day Weekend may also attract essential workers who can’t attend the Hub’s covid testing site at 701 Alabama St., which operates on Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., said Latino Task Force organizer Valerie Tuiler-Laiwa.
Public health workers say that test results in the Mission and the Southeastern neighborhoods show positivity rates of 6 to 9 percent, whereas overall city positivity rate is 3 percent.
But that’s not all, ladies and gentlemen.
Much like the Hub, Carnaval seeks to address the multitude of issues people in the community are facing. For example, a job fair will be put on in partnership with the Office of Economic Workforce Development.
Employers can advertise jobs, and visitors can sign up for training and apprenticeships, where they can possibly be retrained from a food-sector job to roles in other industries, like construction.
“A lot of the people in the restaurant or hotel industry won’t be able to work for a while, so we invited employers,” said festival director Rodrigo E. Durán.
Members from the San Francisco Unified School District will also be available to answer questions for those who started school last week, especially since the virus may amplify racial educational inequities. Other booths include voter and Census registration.
As a result of this year’s culminating themes of health and culture, Carnaval organizers will hand out groceries to visitors with a special surprise not found at the Hub food bags: ingredients for a specific Carnaval dish.
“You can go home and cook your own Carnaval meal!” Hernández said.
Small groups of dancers may make periodic appearances and performances throughout the day — sans stages, to discourage overcrowding. A select number of vendors will be greenlit to sell some handcrafts and wares, many of whom have been unable to sell at other canceled events, or who took up handicraft making after the loss of other jobs.
Each resource will have its own space, to ensure social distancing. For example, covid testing will be strictly on the John O’Connell soccer field; the health and wellness services on the school parking lot; the job fair on a separate parking lot.
Moreover, there will be one entrance and exit to each zone, and the number of attendees per space will be regulated. Five to six people can get tested at a time, 10 people can visit the job fair, and 15 to 20 people can receive health services at booths spaced 10 feet apart, Durán said.
Volunteers will be enforcing distance and passing out hand-sanitizer and masks, which is required to enter.
“We decided we want to boldly move forward, but we made sure to produce this event in a safe manner,” Durán said.
Of course, Hernández is upset that Carnaval isn’t business as usual. In other ways, though, this Carnaval has been just as inspiring.
“It was very sad for me, because I have been involved from the very beginning. But we are creating amazing solutions to help our community heal and recover from this crisis,” he said. “And for me that’s what makes me feel very happy.”