Triangle Ethnic Fest

Triangle Ethnic FestAt the turn of the century, Sicilian and Italian immigrants moved to Madison in search of a better life. Looking for a place to live where they could be close to each other and carry on the traditions of their native land, they moved to a swampy marsh off Monona Bay, an area that resisted development because no one wanted to live there.

No strangers to adversity, the immigrants filled in the marsh using hand tools and perseverance to move the dirt. Houses, shops, and churches began to grow in the transplanted soil. As blacks from the rural South and immigrants from other countries arrived, the former swamp became home to as many as 14 different ethnic groups. Residents fondly referred to the neighborhood as the “Bush” after the Greenbush plat on which it was located. At its heart was a triangle of land bordered by West Washington Avenue and Regent and Park Streets.

Children grew up and got married; parents became grandparents; two World Wars were fought, and still the community flourished. But by the end of the fifties, the decision to dismantle the Greenbush had already been made. In the name of urban renewal, the families were moved, the houses razed, and a community was split apart.

By the early seventies, the Greenbush had been rebuilt into apartments for retirees, the disabled, and those of low income. Bayview was one of two complexes built for families. The first apartments were rented in 1971. The Norma and Lupe Avila family was one of the fIrst to move in.

Triangle Ethnice FestOver the next 10 years families moved in and out of Bayview. By the mid-eighties, the diversity of cultures represented by the residents began to rival that of the Old Bush, but where Greenbush was largely peopled with Italian, Sicilian, African-American, Jewish, Irish, and Eastern European residents, Bayview housed Hmong, Nigerian, Columbian, African-American, Mexican, Cambodian, and Native-American residents. Not only were these new residents culturally diverse, but also a surprising number of them practiced a traditional art or dance from their native land.

In 1985, Caroline Werner, David Haas, Donna Turner, Pat Woicek, Chou Thao, Marilyn Cooper, Patricia Eldred, John Givens, Peter Taylor, JoAnna Williams-Brown, Shoua Her, Roland Krogstad, Helene Pesche, Francisca Rodriguez, and others joined together and created a festival to celebrate the diverse cultures of the community, showcase the neighborhood talent and enhance communication between the various complexes in the Triangle.

The provisional name of the celebration was the Bayview International Festival, but about two months before the celebration took place the name had been changed permanently to the Annual Triangle Ethnic Fest. Billed as “a unifying force in drawing the elderly, individuals with disabilities and family residents of the area together,” the first Ethnic Fest was held on Sunday, October 13 from 1:00-5:00 PM. Residents provided all food and entertainment. The menu that year included food from Laos, Vietnam, Nigeria, Columbia, Mexico, and America.

Entertainment was modest by today’s standards. During the four hours the first Fest ran, only seven acts graced the stage. Although today we have over twenty entertainers in two locations, children’s events, and numerous displays and vendors, the connection with our modest beginning remains: Blues singer Judy McNeal’s brother Kenneth gave one of the seven performances in 1985. Although represented by a different troupe, traditional Hmong dance was also one of the seven. And the Hermanos Avila, who would grow to become the Ballet Folklorico de Los Hermanos Avila, performed Mexican Dance. The 1985 festival also brought an exciting performance of a new style called breakdance by Steve Lauritz, Jr. and Charles Green.

In 1998, Rene Avila brought breakdance back to the Fest with the 401 Rockers. Steve Lauritz, Sr. was still a Bayview employee, while Charles Green’s niece Oniqua Johnson was dancing in the Center as part of TCT.

Triangel Ethnic FestThe second year the planning committee decided to claim the third Sunday in August as the regular Fest date with the following Sunday reserved in case of rain. After the postponement of the ninth Fest in 1993, the committee decided to do away with the rain date policy. In 1997, the thirteenth Fest endured several hours of rain in the morning and early afternoon. Three acts canceled, but the show went on.

In addition to adopting a regular Fest date in 1986, the planning committee established a bond with the transplanted Italians from the Greenbush by inviting the Italian Folk Dancers to the Fest that year. The bond is even stronger today. This year the Italian Folk Dancers, Nick Stassi’s pictures from the Old Bush, and Donna Turner’s interview of Italian women residents from the Greenbush are all a part of the festival.

The Third Annual Fest marked the first time a contest was held to pick a logo. Currently, the planning committee reviews several designs before choosing one for the year. In 1989, the committee felt the logo used at the Fifth Annual Ethnic Fest-a globe triangulated by three orbits-expressed so perfectly what the event was all about that they adopted it as the permanent letterhead. In 1996, the festival expanded into the newly-remodeled Bayview International Center for Education and the Arts. Like a tree, the Fest branches out a little more each year but remains connected to and draws sustenance from its roots. In the memory of that original Fest, come with us and celebrate the cultures of the world, all day long.

Directions: If going south on Park St, after crossing Regent St, turn left at the first traffic light (Meriter Hospital will be on the opposite side of Park St.). Enter Braxton Place (at stoplight near skywalk, between Regent St. and W. Washington Ave.). If going north on Park St, after going past W. Washington Ave, turn right at the first traffic light. This is the only entrance.