“This year, particularly, it’s good to celebrate El Día de Los Niños and have this moment of happiness that brings joy and hope and resources to immigrant and Latino families who are struggling in the current political climate,” says Fabiola Hamdan, organizer of the annual El Día de Los Niños event. “They are really being attacked and are living in fear. I think it’s very, very important to have this event to highlight the richness of this type of celebration and to really have fun.”
El Día de Los Niños, now in its 15th year in Madison, will be held on Saturday, May 5, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., at the Goodman Community Center, 149 Waubesa St. Every year, Hamdan and the Latino Children and Families Council present a whole days worth of fun games, activities, and performances for Madison-area children.
El Dia del Niño or “Day of the Child” is a celebration that originated in Mexico and dates back to 1925. Today, it is celebrated in many Latin American and other countries around the world and is designed to not only include the whole family in activities for children, but to share community resources with families.
“In Latin America – and other countries, as well – we have a special day, like Mother’s Day here, that is really a big deal. On Children’s Day, we celebrate children in all kinds of ways,” Hamdan says. “I can remember as a child it was a special day for all of us kids. For me, personally, and people on our committee, when we first decided to do this, we saw that it wasn’t really celebrated here on a specific date for Chidren’s Day. We felt something was missing, so that’s why we have this celebration.”
El Día de Los Niños is not just for the children. It’s also are also important resources for the parents of the children.
“We will have a lot of immigration attorneys coming to the event who will be offering free resources. That’s something that we feel the community really needs right now,” Hamdan says. “There will be many local agencies there and resources like health information. There are so many resources out there, but if you are an immigrant you often have trouble accessing them. For immigrants, going into an office can be intimidating or they might be scared. But when you have the resources out there like at this event and can walk around from place to place, it’s much easier to access all of this vital information that they need.”
Hamdan says she is excited that LifeTouch will once again be at El Dia de los Ninos taking pictures and doing IDs for babies and young children providing SmileSafe photo ID cards to help parents and law enforcement obtain a current school picture if a child goes missing. “It’s very important for when, God forbid, your child is missing at that age and sometimes you’re looking for a picture in all of the chaos, right away we connect with [National Center for] Missing and Exploited Children and we put the picture of the child in ‘Under Alert.’ So that is huge for babies. That’s a good opportunity,” Hamdan says.
Sponsors for the 2018 El Día de Los Niños include CUNA Mutual, Group Health Cooperative, Haws Quindel S.C., Meriter Hospital, MG&E, Safe Communities, Schwab & Charitable, Summit Credit Union, UW Health & Unity Insurance, and UW Health Children’s Hospital.
Beyond the local service agencies and resources that are available, El Día de Los Niños is also an event where many local officials and elected officers are present. “We really make it a point every year to invite local authorities including alders and supervisors to hopefully come and share this event with the Latino families and kids because that’s how we start communicating and building community,” Hamdan says. “Every year, we do have Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and Mayor Paul Soglin along with Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham.”
The very first El Día de Los Niños event was held at The Salvation Army on Madison’s east side in 2004. “It was brand new. We were thinking 50 people would show up,” Hamdan remembers. “We had 800 people show up that year and we were like going crazy, of course. We had no idea how people would respond. That was an early wake-up call for us to really make this event a big event.”
Last year, close to 1,500 people attended El Día de Los Niños. Hamdan is expecting another huge crowd on May 5.
“This event has gotten really big. It’s a lot of work to put together. It’s like you’re having a wedding every year,” Hamdan laughs. “I have a great group of volunteers, of course.”
“We love having it at Goodman Community Center. It’s a great place to host the event with the added bonus of Latino families coming in and learning more about Goodman and finding out about all of the great programmings they have there,” she adds.
El Día de Los Niños always features a parade of Latin American Nations where children display their cultural heritage by carrying various flags from Spanish-speaking countries around the world and parading their way around the Goodman Community Center.
“El Día de Los Niños is a special day all around to really make a point that our children are our priorities and they are our future,” Hamdan says.
“My favorite part of the day of the event seeing all of the kids and families – mom and dad together – having fun. Just watching how families come together and enjoy themselves in a very friendly space,” she adds. “People just light up. It’s not often that we see large groups of families coming together like this. So it’s just so neat to see their smiling faces.”