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Iowa City Latino Festival returns Sunday

Festival was postponed after Mollie Tibbetts' body found

Exchange student Gabriela Bautista from Mexico (center) dances during the 2014 Latino Festival at Greene Square Park in Cedar Rapids on Sunday, July 13, 2014. (File photo/The Gazette)
Exchange student Gabriela Bautista from Mexico (center) dances during the 2014 Latino Festival at Greene Square Park in Cedar Rapids on Sunday, July 13, 2014. (File photo/The Gazette)

The Iowa City Latino Festival will return to downtown Iowa City starting at noon Sunday, a month after organizers postponed the event in reaction to the death of University of Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts.

Originally scheduled for Aug. 25, just a few days after Tibbetts’ body was found in her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa, festival director Manuel Galvez said he postponed the event for two reasons. The first was out of respect for Tibbetts’ family and friends.

“We felt it would be disrespectful. We have the festival in downtown Iowa City, where she has many friends and professors. One way to show respect was to postpone the festival,” Galvez said.

The second reason he postponed the festival was out of concern about reactions to the Latino community in Iowa. Those reactions came after Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in Tibbetts’ death.

Rivera, who pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Poweshiek County District Court, is a Mexican immigrant who worked at Yarrabee Farms in Brooklyn. Authorities said he was in the country illegally. His arrest spurred a wave of reactions from politicians, including Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and President Donald Trump, who used the case to decry America’s immigration system.

“There was all this rhetoric that affected the Latino community in Iowa. We were having a really hard time in Iowa as the Latino community. Some political voices were using the situation for a political agenda, which in my opinion was irresponsible,” Galvez said.

He said he knows people who received threats. Others worried there might be protests or even violence.

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“One month ago, some of the vendors canceled because they were afraid. Some of the groups that were going to be performing said they felt unsafe. They said, ‘Can you guarantee nothing is going to happen to us?’ I couldn’t say yes,” Galvez said.

However, he said since announcing the postponement, he has received a wave of support from the wider community, with additional community organizations signing up to participate. The theme this Sunday is “Somos una comunidad” — “We are one community.”

“It’s more people participating now than we had the first time,” Galvez said. “It’s amazing to feel that, that we are not alone. People want to show we are together, we are one community. All hateful and racist speeches are just a minority.”

The day will feature live music, traditional dances, food and children’s activities. The festival will be noon to 8 p.m. on South Linn Street, just outside the Iowa City Senior Center, 28 S. Linn St. That block will be closed to traffic for the festival.

A festival in Perry, Viva Perry, was also postponed in response to Tibbetts’ death. It has been rescheduled for Sept. 30.

l Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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