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    Carnaval San Francisco 2017 Celebrates “El Corazon de San Pacho—The Heart of San Francisco”

    By Roberto Hernandez

    The 39th annual Carnaval San Francisco two-day Festival and Grand Parade will wind its way through San Francisco’s Mission District this Memorial Day weekend, May 27 and 28, bringing samba, salsa, soca and more to the area in celebration of all that is “El Corazon de San Pancho/The Heart of San Francisco”—diversity, inclusivity and love.

    As California’s largest annual multi-cultural celebration, Carnaval San Francisco draws over 400,000 attendees each year. Guests engage in an enormous two-day festival and grand parade that’s pulsating with dancing, drumming, live music, brilliant costumes, delicious food, and artistry from Brazil, Mexico, Bolivia, Colombia, Trinidad, Tobago, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Guatemala, Africa, Chile, Haiti and more—mostly created by Mission District residents and Bay Area artists.

    Cuban pianist, composer and arranger, Jesús “Chuchito” Valdés Cortés, Jr., will headline the two-day festival. On Sunday morning, seven-time Grammy-nominated percussionist, John Santos, and longtime Carnaval San Francisco supporter and dancer, Blanche Brown, will serve as grand marshals for the parade, leading it alongside Carnaval San Francisco 2017 King and Queen Antoine Hunter and Tiombe Valone.

    This year’s event theme, “El Corazon de San Pancho/The Heart of San Francisco,” pays homage to San Francisco’s enduring legacy as a place that has always opened its heart to people from around the world. Some of its residents are economic or political refugees who came to San Francisco to find sanctuary. Others, from the hippies of the 1960s to members of the LGBT community, came to the city looking for love, freedom or the right to express themselves. Event organizers believe that San Franciscans built a city that values belonging, diversity, community-building, and multicultural arts and that the “heart” of San Francisco is the value its residents place on culture, community and empathy toward one another.

    “As a proud member of the LGBT and Carnaval communities, my experience at Carnaval has been that of celebrating life and the many members of our rich and diverse community,” said Carnaval San Francisco’s 2015 King, R. Jefferson Joseph.  “It is a safe space that promotes joyful, artistic expressions of humanity. I’ve had the honor of being one of the symbols of this mission, and I have felt fully supported by the Carnaval community.”

    He continued, “Whether I’ve chosen to blaze across the stage with intense warrior-like movement in royal blue pants and a regal sash, or skip about gleefully donning a feathered headdress and sporting gold/silver sequined booty shorts, I have felt accepted and celebrated for who I am.”

    “In 2015,” he added, “I won a title that has granted me entry into a royal family that includes several kings who are proud members of the LGBT community. I’ve paraded through the streets of the Mission with award-winning Grupo Tania Santiago, and danced about perched high up on the royal Carnaval float with my husband, Andrew Presley, proudly parading and dancing by my side. These experiences are just a few, and, of course, my own, but I hope, and truly believe, they represent the experiences of many others who belong to both the LGBT and Carnaval communities.”

    Carnaval San Francisco 2017 will take place a month before the city celebrates the 50th anniversary of its Summer of Love. In honor of that milestone, Carnaval San Francisco organizers plan to pay tribute to musical icons Carlos Santana and Jerry Garcia, both San Francisco natives synonymous with the 1960s counterculture movement.

    The Carnaval San Francisco Festival will be held Saturday and Sunday, May 27 and 28, from 10 am to 6 pm. Taking place on Harrison Street between 16th and 24th streets, the Festival will feature a rich assortment of food, music, dance, arts, crafts and other fun activities and entertainment on several stages for people of all ages to enjoy.

    The Grand Parade on Sunday, May 28, begins at 9:30 am. with a brilliant procession of contingents, most of which will feature beautifully adorned floats depicting rich multicultural themes and featuring performers who engage and entertain the crowds.  Brazilian-style escola samba schools with up to 300 members will dance through the streets in fantastic feathered headdresses or sweeping Bahia skirts, while Caribbean contingents will perform the music and dance of the Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and Trinidad.

    Other parade groups include Mexican Aztec performers, traditional African drummers, Polynesian dancers, Japanese drummers, giant puppets and folkloric groups representing Guatemala, Honduras and Bolivia. The Grand Parade will start at the corner of 24th and Bryant streets, proceed west to Mission Street, head north on Mission to 17th Street, turn east on 17th and conclude at South Van Ness.

    Carnaval San Francisco was conceived 39 years ago by a group of local musicians, artists and residents eager to bring the spirit of Latin American and Caribbean culture to San Francisco, and has grown to become the largest annual multicultural celebration in California.

    The event is supported by Brava! For Women in the Arts and San Francisco Grants for the Arts. Admission to the festival and parade is free. Grandstand seating for the parade, located on Mission Street between 21st and 22nd streets, is available for purchase online at, where you will also find more information about Carnaval San Francisco, including current updates.

    Roberto Hernandez is the Executive Producer of Carnaval San Francisco.