¡Pachanga! brings a Mexican fiesta to Navy Pier this New Year’s Eve

Inspired by Mexican state fairs and the Mexican cities of Pueblos Magicos, the co-founders of ¡Pachanga! wanted to curate that atmosphere back home in Chicago.

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A woman has her face air brush painted like a catrina, or elegantly-dressed skeleton figure, at the last ¡Pachanga! event on Wednesday, November 23, 2022 at Navy Pier.

Photo by Jesus J. Montero

El mejor lugar para cobertura bilingüe de noticias y cultura latina en Chicago. | The place for bilingual coverage of Latino news and culture in Chicago.

The story of ¡Pachanga! begins at the now extinct — but forever legendary — East Room in Logan Square.

About six years ago, resident DJ Daniel Martinez is approached by his friend, Memo Duarte, with an idea to create events that would harness the elements of a traditional Mexican family party but feature the sounds of Chicago Latino youth.

This New Year’s Eve, ¡Pachanga! will host an event at Navy Pier to ring in the new year.

Tonight is the group’s first ever New Year’s Eve celebration that will be hosted by Bar Sol, the newest Latin restaurant on the pier.

“We came up with this idea of ¡Pachanga! based on bringing different generations and different styles of music that are very Hispanic, Latino-focused, and bring in some of the folkloric elements of Mexico into it,” said Duarte in an interview with La Voz Chicago. “Over the years, it’s kind of evolved into something a lot bigger.”

Inspired by Mexican state fairs and the Pueblos Magicos (towns in Mexico known for their history, culture and wonder), Duarte wanted to curate that atmosphere back home in Chicago.

‘Pachanga’ is slang that is used to describe a loud party with dancing and music. It’s a term used by Latinos worldwide, a unifying word that is understood by all.

“We give people an experience to relive their childhood through music,” said Martinez.

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Daniel Martinez, Marino Alvarado, and Memo Duarte take turns spinning and DJing at their ¡Pachanga! events. The co-founders also add other local DJs, artists, bands, and vendors to their lineups and programming.

Photo by Jesus J. Montero

And if you’ve ever attended a Mexican party, you’ve probably had to take a nap on a makeshift bed made two chairs pushed together while a live band plays in your ear. It’s those universal moments that are part of a typical ¡Pachanga! event.

“I feel like we fill a void here in Chicago,” said ¡Pachanga! organizer Marino Alvarado. “We bring a party that pays homage to our culture.”

Alvarado joined ¡Pachanga! six months after its inception as a DJ, but now works alongside Martinez and Duarte. Since then, the group has hosted events across Chicago — from Subterranean in Wicker Park to The Giant Penny Whistle in Pilsen and most recently, Bar Sol at Navy Pier.

Sold out tickets and lines outside the venues have all been due to the investment the three have put into ¡Pachanga! events. When planning for an event, they prioritize selecting vendors of color and booking musical groups that typically perform at quinceañeras.

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¡Pachanga! hosted a sold-out Black Wednesday event at Navy Pier’s Bar Sol on Wednesday, November 23, 2022, which featured serval local vendors and partnerships.

Photo by Jesus J. Montero

“I don’t really think there’s any other party in Chicago that actually gives brown people the opportunities that we do to be able to showcase their art, their music, their talents,” Alvarado said.

What the three have created is an entertainment group that is very Mexican-American, an identity that has often felt split down the middle and torn between two countries that are not fully home. They’ve taken that identity and turned it into something to celebrate.

The three said their success has come due to a labor of love while juggling full-time jobs and family.

“It’s like gambling, you know? You’re betting on house money, house money is you, right? You’re betting on yourself,” said Martinez, who is a special education teacher in Brighton Park.

Martinez remembers fronting his own money for events and thinking to himself, “I hope I get this back.” To his surprise, he made it back every time.

What’s made it easy is the brotherhood and trust the three have developed with each other, they told La Voz.

“You have to like the people you’re working with and I happen to have two really good partners and friends in Memo and Marino, and we just believe in each other,” Martinez said.

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Daniel Martinez (left), Memo Duarte (center), and Marino Alvarado have been working together since the first ¡Pachanga! events in the now defunct East Room in 2016. The trio has now produced events at 360 CHICAGO, The Metro, and Navy Pier.

Photo by Jesus J. Montero

Duarte, who is a music program manager at the UIC School of Theatre and Music, recalls the feeling of relief after the group’s most recent event at Navy Pier.

“I texted them, kind of taking a deep breath and being like, ‘You know what, I appreciate the f—— out of my partners’.”

Alvarado, who is a mechanical technician at an accelerator laboratory, says ¡Pachanga! gave him the opportunity to expand his talents as a DJ and organizer, and would eventually partner up with Ajua Media, ¡Pachanga!’s parent company, to produce media content for other notable brands in the city.

“We’re competing with everybody, you know? What makes us different from all the other parties that are going on? What type of experience can we provide? Let’s stay true to the roots,” Alvarado said. “We keep it traditional, but we still push the culture forward.”

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