Remaneien Wakuk does not remember the last time she felt so at home in a public setting. Normally her desire to remain under the radar is more intense than the need to feel at ease.
“My English is not so good. I feel like if I speak Spanish anywhere I will be judged. Here I feel so welcomed. Everyone is here to have fun and be happy. I don’t feel judged,” said Wakuk.
Wakuk and her family joined thousands of Milwaukeeans attending the seventh annual Mitchell Street Sun Fair, which took place over three days last weekend.
From South 7th Street, near the Pakistani-Indian grocery store Sasta Bazaar, to South 11th Street, near the Gerald L. Ignace Indian Health Center, the Sun Fair provided rides, entertainment, food and an opportunity for people of every ethnicity to come together and embrace other cultures.
Sponsored by the Business Improvement District (BID #4), the street festival was initially created to keep the Mitchell Street commercial corridor in the minds of the community, according to Nancy Bush, the executive director.
“The fair offers a place for kids to be kids and families to take part in the many cultures of the South Side,” said Bush. “I had a man come up to me who was incredibly grateful for the enjoyable afternoon. I would attribute his great experience to the diverse group of vendors we have every year.”
“I came because I wanted to try the pinchos,” said Wakuk, referring to skewered pork kabobs, “and my kids wanted to go on the rides. But I was surprised by how many open people I met; I’m usually so closed off. I just met a nice woman who sat with me while our kids played and we just talked and talked.”
After spending several hours at the fair on Saturday and Sunday evenings, Wakuk was impressed how conversations over meat kabobs connected her to new people.
According to Bush, every year the Sun Fair attracts thousands of community members because of the free admission and the affordable activities offered.
In addition to rides such as the Cliff Hanger, activities for children included faces painting and carnival games.
“This is my third time here, and I always noticed everyone smiling and truly enjoying themselves,” said northwest Milwaukee resident Tammi McGowan. “As a minority, you always have to worry about how you come off to other people, especially in public. It’s nice that here myself and my daughter can just relax and have a good time.”
During the warm weekend, several vendors showcased their specialties at the fair. While vendors selling elotes (corn) and enchiladas drew large crowds, the ice cream from the La Michoachana food cart cooled attendees down.
Kenneth Ward, a 23-year-old resident of Milwaukee’s North Side, came for the food and stayed for the atmosphere.
“Food is the greatest way to bring everyone from their separate corners together. A Tilt-A-Whirl won’t bring people together but food creates a bond,” said Ward. “Being here feels like a day for everyone to put their guard down and be themselves.”
As an African-American man, Ward said that public settings cause him to constantly be aware of his image. He said the fair creates a space to connect with people who have had similar experiences.
“Everyone is just coming together and enjoying themselves for once.”