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Círculo Festival in Long Beach at Kennedy Plaza



ven though the festival at Marshal Fields was not a successful fundraiser, we thought we would try to

implement a festival once again in the Long Beach community as we had done successfully for many years.

We applied to the City of Long Beach to have the festival on Memorial Weekend on the “Superblock”, a large space

along the beachfront. The City of Long Beach agreed and the owner of the Superblock gave us permission to use

his property.

Veterans who found out about this plan opposed Círculo’s festival stating that Memorial Weekend was not a time

for festivities. Long Beach City officials then organized a meeting with all parties. At the meeting, Gil mentioned

the many institutions including fire fighters, police and other organizations who planned events and activities over

the Memorial Weekend in Long Beach and other communities throughout the United States. Furthermore, Gil

mentioned that Long Beach opened its summer beach season with festivities over this weekend. In the end there was

not agreement and City officials asked Círculo to cancel the festival on this date.

We moved the date of the festival and the site to be at Kennedy Plaza in front of Long Beach City Hall and the

property across from the Police Department, along the rail road tracks. Now this property is a public garage and the

bus hub. On this site we had all kinds of rides. At the plaza we had the food, merchandise booths, and the stage for

the orchestra. For the first time we had to have a “Corralito”, a fenced in area where beer and beverages were sold, this

was not the case for the previous twelve festivals.

It was clear from the beginning that there was much animosity about Círculo holding the festival at Kennedy Plaza.

Although City Hall promised to cooperate with us after we agreed to change the date from Memorial Weekend, we

continued to find challenges along the way so much so that Gil made a complaint to the Assistant City Manager,

Eugene Camarato, about the lack of cooperation.

The festival was to begin on a Thursday evening and last throughout the weekend. We wanted to begin Thursday

evening so we could see that small and big things were working properly. It was the first time we had a large festival

at this site and Gil did not want to miss important aspects of the implementation including passing inspections for

food and rides.

That Thursday evening was windy and the booths needed to be tightened down. There were a very small amount of

people in attendance. Some youth wandered through the plaza while Gil talked with Assistant City Manager, Eugene

Camarato. Our security and police officers were supervising, as well as Nassau County Mounted Police. We closed

the evening at 10:00 pm, as agreed, with zero incidents. Círculo’s security supervised throughout the night and no

incidents were reported the following morning when Gil came to work at 9:00 am.

After arriving, he was informed by staff members to call Mr. Eaton, Long Beach’s City Manager. Gil did so to discover

that the festival was cancelled and was instructed to immediately disassemble all booths or the police would be called

to do so. The reason given was that a man that had attended the festival the night before had later gone to the beach

and fired shots in the air around 2:00 in the morning. Gil informed Mr. Eaton these events were not realted and one

was not the cause of the other.

Gil decided to go to City Hall directly to meet with the City Manager. Mr. Eaton was in his office as well as his

assistant, Eugene Camarato. Mr. Eaton repeated what he told Gil on the phone earlier. It was a very tense encounter.

Gil later learned that there was a terrible fatal accident involving a city employee and a Long Beach resident on the

beach and this added to the difficult circumstances.

Gil asked the City Manager and the Assistant City Manager to reconsider. Gil knew Eugene for many years and asked

him to intervene. He did not get the answer or support that he hoped for, only silence. In the end, the rides were kept

open but all other festivities were cancelled.

Gil recalls that the weekend was a nightmare. Círculo had to deal with all the vendors. People had invested

hundreds of dollars and days of work to meet the demand for a successful festival. Gil Bernardino had to call everyone

and explain what happened. They were furious and some questioned if the organization had the necessary permits

which it did. The agency returned all the fees that were paid to it by the vendors. The situation was stressful and

anxiety provoking.

Gil and Círculo’s Board of Directors also dealt with residents who complained about police abuses throughout the

festival. Individuals stated that the police were overly aggressive in checking all bags of people coming on the rides.

They and Gil never observed these kind of check points at other festivals in Long Beach.

While Círculo was told that the beach incident was the reason why the festival was cancelled Gil Bernardino believed

a different story. He observed that there was much pressure from businesses and politicians to not grant Círculo a

permit for its festival at Kennedy Plaza. He found that many people did not want to publicize the existence of so many

Hispanics on this beach island because some considered it bad for real estate development. The City at that time had

two other public festivals in Long Beach, Saint Mary’s Festival and the Irish Parade and so it could not refuse to have

a Hispanic Festival. Gil felt that an excuse was found to cancel the festival. It was clear to him and many others that

discrimination had colored the decision to close down Círculo’s festival.

Gil Bernardino and the Board of Directors made the decision to sue the city for racial discrimination. The agency

however had little funds to support this legal fight. Two years of unsuccessful fundraising at its festival left the agency

with little resources.