Honoring Juneteenth What does it mean to be free?

By Andrea Valadez

The third annual Salinas Juneteenth celebration brought together a diverse group of Salinas residents with one common goal: to uplift Black voices. Juneteenth commemorates the day in 1865 when the last enslaved people learned they were free from bondage. June 19 was made a federal holiday in 2021 by President Joe Biden.

“(Juneteenth is) a time to really celebrate the idea of freedom, and freedom for everyone. I think Juneteenth represents the fact that America was founded on the idea of freedom, but for a long time, there were people who were not free,” said Dr. Kendra Cabrera, co-coordinator of the Salinas Juneteenth Celebration Association.

“A lot of people don’t even know what Juneteenth is. Now that it’s become a federal holiday, more people are going to be aware of it because they get the day off. But they should become more aware of what the holiday means.

“Why did it take two and a half years for people to know they were free from bondage? The Civil War had ended about two and a half months before they were liberated … It represents this time in America where people were taking advantage of others who had no idea they were supposed to be free. So people should just educate themselves on the holiday,” she said.

“Juneteenth is about community. A lot of African-American people live in Salinas, and a lot of our allies who are not Black but care about freedom, liberty, justice, and inequality also live here and want to celebrate,” said Cabrera.

The hard work that the organization puts into the event definitely didn’t go unnoticed, as attendees enjoyed food from various local vendors. The food options ranged from Mediterranean food and tacos to barbecue. Attendees also had the opportunity to shop at tables hosted by several Black-owned businesses in the area.

There was also a fashion show held in the Hartnell Student Center, where volunteers modeled African-inspired clothing and accessories. Local artists Langston Johnson and Vicky Lee were featured in an art exhibition.

Following the anticipated fashion show, local performer Sej Miles captivated audiences with covers of songs from some of their musical influences, as well as their original song “War Clothes Down.”

“I’m really excited to share some Black folk music, I’m gonna be sharing the songs of Elizabeth Cotton and Lead Belly. Most people consider Lead Belly a blues musician, but he was actually a folk musician and because of the times, he was pegged as a blues artist because that was more acceptable,” said Miles.

“Folk was considered a white-only genre, once it was appropriated from the Black community. So I’m really excited to make that tie between a lot of the genius behind American folk music actually being from Black creators,” they said.

Music was a central theme of the day. Master drummer and educator Abdoulaye Diallo and his ensemble Tam Tam Sacree performed multiple times throughout the day and kept attendees delighted with their drumming. Their passion for their craft echoed through each beat on their drums.

“I really appreciate getting to hear the traditional West African drums. The music is really cool,” said Salinas resident Ivy English.

The community also did its part to make the day as fun and educational as possible. Community partners such as the Natividad Medical Center, the Boys & Girls Club, and The Salinas Public Library were just a few of the organizations that tabled during the event.

The Salinas Juneteenth Celebration Association aims to celebrate and uplift the Black and African-American community in the Salinas Valley. For more information, visit their website and support the cause.


Have something to say about this story? Send us a letter.



About Andrea Valadez

Andrea Valadez was born and raised on the outskirts of Los Angeles and is now a journalism student at Cal State Monterey Bay. She’s the current editor-in-chief of the school’s student-run newspaper, The Lutrinae.