Island neighbors get freshly cooked tamales at the second annual Taco y Tamale Fest. | Igor Studenkov

The Island neighborhood’s Taco y Tamale Fest returned for the second year on the afternoon of July 22 – and this time, they expanded from the Island Oasis Nature Play Garden, 1114 S. Mason Ave., to the entire 1100 block. 

The festival was organized by the Island Civic Association to give this residential pocket of Austin a neighborhood festival to call their own while bringing neighbors together. According to ICA president Nate Tubbs, they chose the theme because “that’s just the food the people are into” and because the neighborhood has many Mexican American residents. The fest coincided with the annual back to school supply drive and backpack giveaway, which ICA has been holding for the past three years.

The Island is separated from the rest of the Austin community area by the Eisenhower Expressway on the north and industrial businesses on the east, and it borders Oak Park to the west and Cicero to the south. While ICA traces its roots back to 1956, it relaunched in 2021 to bring resources and amenities to the community and, as Tubbs put it, “try to support the quality of life in these 12 blocks.”

The festival was largely funded through the Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities grant. The fund uses money donated by foundations and individual donors to support alternatives to gun violence. The Island received the grant in 2022 and again in 2023.

“I guess the vision is connections and getting the neighbors to know each other,” Tubbs said.

While he said ICA wanted to close off Mason Avenue from the get-go, they weren’t allowed to do it in 2022 because CTA Route 91/Austin uses it to turn around. The city let the organization close off the block this time.

This year, residents got to eat Mexican food, and ICA held a raffle and organized basketball games. Tubbs said that Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) and State Rep. La Shawn Ford (8th), who represent the area on the city and state level, respectively, stopped by at the beginning of the festival. A local Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) police officer talked to kids and let them try on his police vest. 

As the festival came to a close, Tubbs said he was pleased with how it turned out.

“I think it was the best turnout we had,” he said. “I love seeing neighbors connecting to each other. We have a diverse neighborhood here, and I think it’s been bringing together people from different blocks, different ethnicities. I think it’s been a big success.”

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...