The hot late-September temperatures were no match for Harrison Fest 2017.
For the 22nd consecutive year, the annual event was successful — and based on the comments from attendees, there couldn’t have been a better way to spend a day … or entire weekend … in the early fall.
“I look forward to this event every year,” said Mia Romano, 32, of Elizabeth, who said she’s come to Harrison Fest every year since 2012. “Some of my relatives live in Harrison. Pulling something like this off every year seems impossible. But they do it. I give a lot of credit to the organizers.”
The organizer of the event is Harrison Second Ward Councilman Anselmo Millan, who is the president of the Harrison Fest organization. He spends what seems like the entire year in preparation for the event, by hosting fundraisers, dinners and other events to ensure its success every year. When he addressed the crowd to close Harrison Fest 2017, he was reminiscent of why Harrison Fest is a vital part of the town’s existence.
“People, you should be proud of your heritage and your culture,” Millan said. “This is to remind all the cultures — people who come to this country — how important you are. The sponsors — all the sponsors — they believe in heritage. They believe in culture. They believe in immigration.”
Millan also took time to acknowledge all the people who made the weekend-long event possible, including his daughter, Josie, his son-in-law Michael, his grandkids and others.
“A very sincere thank you to Superintendent Robert Van Riper and the men and woman of the Harrison Department of Public works this weekend,” Millan said in a statement. “From putting up the official Harrison Fest 2017 street banner to making sure Harrison Ave. was kept clean throughout the street festival and returned to use as soon as possible after the closing ceremony. (This is) only a fraction of what the Department of Public Works does.”
Millan also thanked the Harrison Police Department and the Hudson County Sheriff’s Office for traffic control — and keeping festival-goers safe throughout the weekend.
Meanwhile, Councilman Larry Bennett said he was happy to see so much action in town.
“Anytime there are people out and about and walking around Harrison Ave., you can’t go wrong,” Bennett said. “I think what I like most is seeing the kids taking part in the parade. It’s great to see generations of diverse Harrison residents involved.”
A weekend affair
The weekend-long event kicked off Friday night, Sept. 22, with an opening Mass at Harrison’s Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church.
The following day, Saturday, Sept. 23, at noon, the annual Harrison Fest Parade stepped off at Supor Boulevard and made its way west on Harrison Ave., past Town Hall, to First St.
The parade included around 70 local organizations, and several dignitaries, including U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-Hoboken, who always finds a way to make it to the annual event.
“I was pretty impressed seeing Sen. Menendez here,” said William Hall, of Harrison. “He’s going through a lot right now, so it says a lot about our town that he comes here every year.”
After the parade — and the following day, Sunday, Sept. 24 — there was more to do than one could have ever dreamed of. From face painting, to games, to bake sales to ethnic food and tradition fare, you name it, it was happening at Harrison Fest.
For 8-year-old Samantha Garvey, who came to the festival with her grandparents Saturday afternoon, it was a great way to avoid something else she might have been doing at the same time.
“My grandma told me if I was good, I wouldn’t have to do my homework until tomorrow (Sunday),” she said. “I got to do things with some of my friends that were here. I’m having a lot of fun, yes.”
And Garvey wasn’t alone.
Jim Synnott, 64, says he doesn’t get around much anymore. But Harrison Fest is something he does his best to go to each year because he likes getting the chance to support something local. He says the weekend wouldn’t be possible without the dedicated group of people who volunteer to put everything together.
“I don’t know how Anselmo (Millan) does it,” Synnott said. “They tell me he has meetings all the time throughout the year and that he lives and breathes this with his sidekicks John Pinho and Monica (Miguens). Look around. There are people all over, from all over, not just Harrison you know. This really is what sets us apart from the other towns around here. We bring people together.”
That was a sentiment echoed by Jose Guzman, 49, also a Harrison resident.
“I love that at a festival like this, we don’t just pull people together — we celebrate our diverse cultures,” Guzman said, referring to the many different performances that happened in the parade and on the Harrison Fest “stage.” Diversity is something we celebrate here. And we live in a time where diversity isn’t exactly seen as a good thing by some people.
“Harrison Fest makes me proud to be a Harrison resident. So many great things are happening here. It’s like the place to be these days, yes? Harrison Fest is a very important part of why this is the place to be. Yeah, it’s pretty hot, but it doesn’t matter. I, for one, couldn’t be happier.”
Perhaps the most unexpected performance of the entire weekend came when a Michael Jackson impersonator took to the stage. The guy really was a doppelganger for the late pop icon. And for 58-year-old Justina Rivera, visiting Harrison from her native Voorhees in South Jersey, the impersonation was the most enjoyable part of her day in Hudson County.
“Look at him!” she said. “My God, it looks so much like Michael Jackson. I can’t believe it.”
And sure enough, now that Harrison Fest 2017 is complete, it’ll be time for Millan and his crew to get back to work … for Harrison Fest 2018.
“Next year, we will do this again,” Millan said.
And given Millan’s standards, it will likely be bigger and better than ever before.