Colombianos en Wisconsin will host Happy People Fest (Festival de la Gente Feliz) to celebrate Colombian independence from Spain Sunday, July 31, at Fireman’s Park in Middleton.

“We are expecting a big crowd again this year,” Alejandro Riaño, president of Colombianos en Wisconsin Inc. and organizer of the event, tells Madison365. “This event is a beautiful celebration of Colombian heritage but it is also an event for everybody. Traditionally, we get a very diverse crowd from other Latino countries and from the greater community. The event is full of good people, great food, great music. It’s a fun time. It’s the Happy People Fest.”

A young girl celebrates as a previous Happy People Fest (Festival de la Gente Feliz).
A young girl celebrates as a previous Happy People Fest (Festival de la Gente Feliz).

It’s called “Happy People Fest” because Riano contends that Colombians are “the happiest people in the world.” He has research to back that up. A survey released earlier this year polled 66,040 people from 68 countries across the globe between September 2015 and December 2015, and asked respondents: “In general, do you personally feel very happy, happy, neither happy nor unhappy, unhappy or very, unhappy about your life?” According to the survey, 87 percent of Colombians polled said they were happy, and only 2 percent said they were unhappy, giving them a “net happiness score” of 85 percent — 20 points above the global average and nearly double the score of the United States.

“In the last 10 years, we are usually always ranked number one for being the happiest,” Riaño says. “We like to think that we bring many happy things to the Madison Latino community and to the greater Wisconsin community.”

An estimated 1.1 million Hispanics of Colombian origin resided in the United States in 2013, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

“In Wisconsin, we have about 5,000 Colombians,” Riaño says. “Many of the Colombians that come to Wisconsin are coming for a higher education or to escape the violence and turmoil in Colombia.

Colombian Fest
Colombian Fest

At the event, Colombians and people from many different backgrounds will celebrate Colombian Independence Day with music, dancing, food, and local Latino bands Grupo Candela and Son del Atlantico. There will be Zumba with Sheba McCants and international Latin music children dancers, a karaoke contest, awards, and more.

“In truth, there are a lot of people who don’t know much about Colombia so this is a great chance for them to come out and learn about Colombian people and customs and food,” Riaño says. “Some people are not event clear where Colombia is located — they think it’s part of Mexico. So this event is a great opportunity to learn about something new.

The menu for the festival will take you right back to Colombia with traditional food like lechona, papas rellenas, empanadas, chicharron, chorizo, arepas, obleas, tamales, refajo, and carne asada.

“I’ve had Colombians who have come to this event in the past and they have cried. I asked them, ‘Why are you crying?’ and they tell me because it’s the only moment throughout the entire year where they have such a wonderful connection with the country,” Riaño says. “When the people are here, the music and food and the culture really sends them to a place that is very personal and happy.”