When Fabiola Hamdan and friends at the Latino Children and Families Council first started El Día de Los Niños 16 years ago, they had no idea what type of gigantic annual community event that they were beginning to build. Today, the annual event serves over 1,500 kids and families. But back then, for that very first event, they were just expecting a few dozen.

“I remember that first one that we had at the Salvation Army. We were looking to have 60 people and we ended up having a couple hundred people,” Hamdan tells Madison365. “We weren’t quite ready for that. But since then, we decided that we wanted to do a bigger event every year and really keep the tradition going.”

Subsequent El Día de Los Niños (The Day of the Children) celebrations would be held at diverse event venues that the event would sooner or later outgrow: the Labor Temple and out in Oregon, Wis. The past 6 years, El Día de Los Niños has been at the Goodman Community Center on Madison’s near east side where there is ample room both inside and outside the building.

El Día de Los Niños 2006 is celebrated with Fabiola Hamdan (holding the baby), a random clown, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Teresa Tellez-Giron, and Rissel Sanderson.
(Photo by A. David Dahmer)

“Goodman is such an amazing community center. It’s really located in an area on the near east side that is easy for the community to get to,” Hamdan says. “Having El Día de Los Niños at Goodman really helps the Latino community get to know the center and all of the great programming they have to offer, but it also helps the greater community get to know our Latino population, too.

“It’s another way to have [Latino] families go places that are not just Centro Hispano or other Latino places,” she adds.

The Latino Children and Families Council (LCFC) will once again be hosting the annual El Día de Los Niños Celebration on Saturday, May 18th, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Goodman Community Center, 149 Waubesa Street, on Madison’s near east side. The organizers are expecting a huge attendance.

“We had about 1,500 people or more last year so we are probably expecting the same amount or more, especially if we have good weather,” Hamdan says.

A previous El Día de Los Niños celebration (Photo by A. David Dahmer)

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.

“El Día de Los Niños is important because it helps to keep tradition alive for our Latino families. It’s such a great tradition in Latin American countries to have an event for the kids,” Hamdan says.

Event attendees can go booth to booth at El Día de los Niños to get valuable information from companies and agencies like 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.

“The other thing that makes El Día de los Niños so great is that we have important resources and key agencies that provide resources for our families that will be there,” Hamdan says. “We have invited local authorities and it’s very important for our community to get to know who the mayor is, who their alders are, who the school board members are … so there will be a little bit of a civic education there.”

In current times, daily life is incredibly difficult for the Latino community and all immigrants, says Hamdan, with recent ICE raids in Dane County and a climate of fear caused by the Trump administration.

“It’s important in this day and age to provide a day of happiness and give people a chance to enjoy a day with their families in a friendly atmosphere,” she says. “Latinos, especially the undocumented people, are suffering a lot under this administration. I think it’s very important to have this type of event that brings the community together.”

El Día de Los Niños will be a day filled with celebration and learning as well as a way to show support for the Latino community.

“More than anything, we want to show the overall community that there are Latino families that you don’t have to be scared of,” she adds. “They are here and they are part of the community and part of the fabric. There are so many immigrants here in Madison and I believe that it really enhances the community in so many ways.”

The Parade of Latin American Nations at El Día de Los Niños
(Photo by Marcus Miles)

Children will display their cultural heritage at El Día de Los Niños 2019 as they perform one of the event’s signature events, the Parade of Latin American Nations. This is where children hoist various flags from Spanish-speaking countries from around the world and parade their way around the Goodman Community Center – both inside and outside.

For Hamdan, this year’s El Día de Los Niños will be bittersweet. After 16 years, this will be the last one where she is the main organizer of the event due to the time-consuming nature of her job as the first-ever immigration affairs specialist for Dane County.

“It takes a lot of time and effort to do this type of event.  I’m very happy that we do have Centro Hispano and the Latino Academy [of Workforce Development] who will now be coordinating the El Día de Los Niños event,” she says. “I will still be helping. The reason that something like this is successful every year and well-planned is because we have an army of volunteers who are really dedicated.

“This Saturday, you will see over 100 volunteers that come out from so many different backgrounds to make sure that the children and families that come to El Día de Los Niños are having fun and have everything that they need,” she adds.

It’s hard to believe it’s been 16 years since the birth of El Día de Los Niños in Madison already.

“I know, right? Sixteen. Sweet sixteen. Can’t believe my baby is 16,” Hamdan smiles. “Time goes by fast, doesn’t it?”