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  • Writer's pictureTyzza Macias

Immerse Yourself in the Vibrant Tradition of the Ortega Brothers at The Gran Festival Colombiano

As the largest Colombian festival in the United States, The Gran Festival Colombiano invites participants to immerse themselves in the rich and dynamic culture of Colombia through a myriad of activities, performances, and culinary delights. This vibrant, family-friendly festival welcomes people of all ages to come together and experience the warmth and hospitality of Colombian culture.

At the heart of this iconic festival are the visionary Ortega Brothers. Produced by the Ortega Brothers and supported by community partners, including the International Conservatory of Latinx Culture (ICLC), the Gran Festival Colombiano not only celebrates Colombian culture but also makes significant contributions to education and cultural preservation initiatives.

A portion of the festival's ticket proceeds benefit organizations such as the NEIU Foundation for the GFC Scholarship Fund and the ICLC Cultural Preservation Fund, underscoring the festival's commitment to fostering education and preserving cultural heritage.

A Decade of Celebration and Unity

The inspiration behind The Gran Festival Colombiano is deeply rooted in the Ortega family's traditions. When the Ortega family migrated from Colombia to the United States in the early 70s, they maintained a strong connection to their heritage through community picnics celebrating Colombia's Independence Day. These gatherings, filled with music, dance, and food, kept the spirit of Colombia alive for the immigrant community.

In the early 2000s, these picnics began to fade. Sensing a void, the Ortega family decided to revive this tradition in 2011, initially celebrating Colombia's Independence Day alongside Jorge's birthday at a Forest Preserve, reminiscent of the old days. With the support of friends and associates, the event quickly grew from a humble gathering to one of the most prominent Colombian and Latino festivals in the United States.

The Gran Festival Colombiano has become a destination for Colombians across the USA to celebrate their heritage and enjoy performances from artists of various musical genres. The festival aims to make attendees feel as though they are in Colombia for a weekend, showcasing the nation's vibrant culture through music, dance, art, and food.

This year, The Gran Festival Colombiano marks a milestone with a spectacular celebration of Colombian culture. Scheduled from July 19th to July 21st, 2024, at Northeastern Illinois University's vibrant campus grounds on Chicago's Northwest Side, the festival promises an unforgettable experience for attendees of all ages and backgrounds. The lineup for the 10th edition boasts an impressive array of renowned artists and performers, including Grupo Niche and Jorge Celedon. From iconic salsa rhythms to traditional folk tunes, the festival's musical offerings reflect the rich tapestry of Colombian music.

We are thrilled to celebrate a decade of the Gran Festival Colombiano and to honor Colombian Independence Day with our community in Chicago.

"We are thrilled to celebrate a decade of the Gran Festival Colombiano and to honor Colombian Independence Day with our community in Chicago," said Jorge L. Ortega Jr., Director and Founder of the festival. "This milestone anniversary represents not only a celebration of Colombian culture but also a testament to the enduring spirit and unity of our community. We look forward to welcoming attendees from across the Midwest to join us for this unforgettable event."

In addition to live performances, the festival will feature art exhibitions, dance workshops, culinary demonstrations, and a marketplace offering a variety of Colombian crafts and goods. Attendees can indulge in authentic Colombian cuisine, learn traditional dances, and participate in interactive activities that showcase the nation's rich heritage. One of the highlights of the festival is the Grand Parade, where participants don colorful Carnaval costumes and parade through the audience, led by the Congo Grande de Chicago and Raices De Mi Tierra Folk Dance Troupe.

The Gran Festival Colombiano provides a unique opportunity for the community to show off their cultural pride. On this day, everyone wears the Colombian soccer jersey and the "Sombrero Vueltiao," a traditional hat from Colombia. The festival has curated a wonderful experience for the whole family and the Midwest to enjoy.

This summer, Chicago is set to come alive with the vibrant rhythms and rich traditions of Colombia. As the Ortega Brothers host the 10th Annual Gran Festival Colombiano, they invite everyone to join in the celebration. Whether you are Colombian or simply a lover of Latin culture, the Gran Festival Colombiano offers an experience that is both entertaining and enriching. So, mark your calendars and get ready to say, “Vamos Pal Festival!” Let’s go to the festival and celebrate the beauty and richness of Colombian culture together.

At the heart of the planning for this highly anticipated cultural festival, Our Latinx Magazine had the privilege of interviewing the founder and lead director, Jorge Ortega. Reflecting on a decade of celebration and unity with The Gran Festival Colombiano, Ortega passionately shared, "This festival is not just an event; it is a testament to our resilience, our rich cultural heritage, and our unwavering commitment to bringing communities together. Each year, we build bridges of understanding, celebrate our diversity, and create lasting memories. The Gran Festival Colombiano is a beacon of hope, unity, and pride for all of us."

Photo: Courtesy of Ortega Brothers, Daveed Holmes, Fest 2023 Jerree Cardenas

OLM: What inspired you to establish the Gran Festival Colombiano a decade ago, and how has it evolved over the years?

Jorge Ortega: What inspired the Ortega Family to establish El Gran Festival Colombiano dates back to when our parents used to take us to picnics a long time ago to celebrate Colombia's Independence Day. Our parents since migrating from Colombia in the early 70s, have always been around family and friends from Colombia and always were together at the picnics.

In the early 2000s, the picnics and festivals celebrating Colombian Independence came to an end. We started the picnic back up in 2011 to celebrate Colombia's Independence with Jorge's Birthday at a Forest Preserve like the old days. We felt the need to keep the culture alive in a family event as we did growing up hearing music from different parts of Colombia and other Latin countries. With the help of some associates and friends, we launched the Fest. From a humble gathering to one of the Best Colombian and Latino Festivals in the country with over 5,000+ patrons daily in attendance. Showcased and programmed over 60 Colombian and International Artists.

Our mission is for the fest to make people feel like they are in Colombia for a weekend. Over the years the Fest has evolved as a destination for Colombians all over the USA to celebrate their heritage and see performances from artists from all different genres of music of all ages. The inspiration to produce the event came out of the needs and wants and dreams of our Pueblo Colombiano to have a space to gather with family and to catch up with old friends to share their heritage and love of music, culture and enjoy some great food from the motherland.

OLM: How does celebrating Colombian Independence Day at the Gran Festival Colombiano enhance the sense of community among attendees?

Jorge Ortega: Celebrating Independence Day at the GFC enhances the sense of community among attendees by bringing people of all cultures and backgrounds. Were in North Park/Albany Park which is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city showing Colombian culture. Sense of pride and family is seen throughout the event and we make sure the community is involved by having a Community Day and First Responders Night which no other festivals do that night is free admission to residents in the area and First Responders and their families.

OLM: What are some of the most memorable moments from the past ten years of the Festival?

Jorge Ortega: It was a very emotional year (2020-21) for the whole family at the end of the COVID pandemic. The world lost millions of "gente," and we had to shut down the business since the event industry was forced to close down. We lost our father, one of the main souls of the festival. We honored Jorge "El Gran Tigre" Ortega at the fest that year. We had the great honor of experiencing one of the best performances by artist Óscar Emilio León Simoza, known as Oscar D'León, affectionately called The Pharaoh of Salsa, The Lion of Salsa, and the World's Sonero. He is a Venezuelan musician and bassist best known for his salsa music. Oscar dedicated a song to our father, El Viejo Tigre Ortega, with the song entitled "A El" (A Mi Padre).

We had the great honor to experience one of the best performances of One of the memorable moments last year was having the honor of honoring the tragic loss of Chicago Police Officer Andres Vazquez-Lasso who was Colombian. We had the NYPD band La Jara from New York performing and before the start of the act, the Chicago Police Bags and Pipes played tribute to the fallen officer.

Another moment was having legendary singers Willie Colon, Johnny Venture and Wilfredo Vargas, Son Palenque, Toto La Momposina, Alfredo Gutierrez, and Milly Quezada, performing on stage and many others. Every year is memorable as we bring legends to the Fest.

OLM: Can you share any specific ways in which the festival has strengthened the bonds within the Colombian community in Chicago?

Jorge Ortega: The festival has allowed many small Colombian businesses to market their product, from food, cafe, makeup, and other things. Also, the diverse program attracts many Colombians from different parts of Colombia.

OLM: How do you plan to make this milestone anniversary celebration unique and unforgettable for attendees?

Jorge Ortega: We're adding new things to the fest and celebrating milestones with some of the big artists performing. It's going to be an event for the ages and the lineup of artists is the most diverse in Colombian Music ever in any event. Grupo Niche, Jorge Celedon, Hernan Gomez, Cholo Valderrama.

OLM: What role do you believe cultural festivals like the Gran Festival Colombiano play in preserving and promoting heritage?

Jorge Ortega: A huge role. The main reason we keep doing the fest is to preserve and promote our heritage. Many Colombians did not or can not return to Colombia and it's important to keep preserving our heritage for kids and future generations as technology and mega stars dominate the radio waves.

OLM: Can you give us a sneak peek into the special performances or activities planned for this year's festival?

Jorge Ortega: Grupo Niche performing after winning a Latin Grammy this year. Fruko y Su Tesos celebrating 60 years. And a sneak peek celebrating 40 years of House Music in Chicago with a Tribute to Latin House and DJs.

OLM: How has the support from the Midwest community contributed to the success and growth of the Gran Festival Colombiano?

Jorge Ortega: The Midwest community supported this event for years and spread the word across the states about how fun and wonderful the fest is.

OLM: What message do you hope to convey to attendees and participants through this decade-long celebration of Colombian culture?

Jorge Ortega: Let's keep this event going and most importantly keep it safe for all ages. Thanks for 10 years of Support! Viva Colombia Viva El festival!

OLM: Looking ahead, what are your aspirations for the future of the Gran Festival Colombiano and its impact on the community?

Jorge Ortega: We hope to gain more support and grow our reach on a national level. To maintain and grow the scholarship fund we set up at Northeastern Illinois University for the students to attend college. and for the GFC to continue to lead the efforts to build a Colombiano Cultural Area in Chicago.


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