Honoring community, culture, and our world: a review of Jamaica Plain’s Wake Up The EarthHonoring
Jamaica Plain held its annual Wake Up The Earth festival May 6th, this past Saturday. The festival started in 1979 when residents of JP and surrounding neighborhoods banned together in protest of the city’s plan to expand highway Interstate 95 through the neighborhood; both causing environmental destruction and destabilizing many people in what at the time was a majority Black and Brown neighborhood. The protest was successful and the space that was going to become the highway was instead made into the luscious green bike and foot paths of the Southwest Corridor, which starts at Forest Hills and travels through Roxbury going all the way to Back Bay. Since the start of this celebration in 1979, people all around Boston have started to flock to JP for this event to celebrate the start of the warm weather and the preservation of the city.
Now, more than 40 years later, the joy and energy of that celebration had yet to stop. The festival was packed and bursting with happiness. The best part was all the different sounds: kids giggling while they got their faces painted, chirps of voices as people caught up with their friends, and of course, the beautiful sounds of drums, saxophones, guitars, and talented singers. These sounds were practically inescapable with the four different stages all hosting live performances of jazz, Latin pop, folk, and an adorably talented children’s choir. It was just as pleasing to the eyes with the beautiful artwork that covers the corridor; each piece a collection of peaceful and nature-inspired color and brightness. There were costumes of butterfly wings as intricate as a real monarch, paintings of cute animals encouraging us to protect their habitats, and gorgeous jewelry and clothing made of the shiniest metals and softest looking fabrics that local artists were selling.
As if all this beauty wasn’t amazing enough, the food at the festival filled the air with warm hints of flavor and filled your mouth with spice, salt, sugar, or whatever other flavors someone could be craving. The diversity in food was so incredible too. There was an Indian restaurant selling plates of its authentic food to anyone looking for a full meal, stands of hot dogs and fried dough embracing the fair vibes, a boba shop calling in teens with its delicious milky drinks, and various Latine places selling Jamaican jerk chicken and ribs, melt-in-mouth tamales, or hot and filling fajitas. The Latine representation at the fair was overall just incredible. There were dancers teaching the culture of the Latine world, diverse and authentic food of the Caribbean, and music bringing Latine influence to different genres. Seeing a culture represented like this was so amazing. JP is always considered a very white neighborhood and sadly, due to gentrification, this isn’t an incorrect understanding of the region. However, there’s a huge Black and Latine population in the neighborhood as well and I hate to see that story and culture being neglected in the history of JP. It was so beautiful seeing and learning more about this culture and I hope that everyone else attending found it just as much of an incredible experience. Even more, I hope that people from these backgrounds found themselves represented and celebrated and will continue to find this at future festivals. I’d really love to see this celebration of culture continuing more for various groups as the celebration goes on.
This celebration of culture and belonging extends to the festival’s overall sense of community. Wake Up The Earth is amazing in the way it makes everyone in the neighborhood feel so connected. I’ve been going since I was a little kid and I can’t say there was a single time when I didn’t run across a field to say hi to a long lost friend or an acquaintance from school who now in the sunshine feels like one of my closest friends. This is just the nature of the festival: everyone knows everyone. Suddenly you’re connected to the elderly lady you see at the bus stop or the babies riding in their strollers down the street. You’re all in this place together, celebrating the resilience of your community and the beauty of your shared world. Wake Up The Earth is a place of togetherness and being there will always make you feel like you’re part of something.
I’m so grateful that I’ve experienced this festival for so many years and get to be part of such an amazing community. I’d encourage anyone from Boston to come by next spring and check out the beautiful art, exquisite food, and comforting culture and community.