MILWAUKEE - The pandemic shut down Milwaukee’s "Mexican Fiesta" -- the largest Latino festival in the Midwest.
The festival is a product of the Wisconsin Hispanic Scholarship Foundation. The canceled event put dozens of scholarships in jeopardy, as Mexican Fiesta is the main source of funds.
"It was the best and most responsible decision we made," said Teresa Mercado, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Hispanic Scholarship Foundation and Mexican Fiesta. "(But) we want to keep the spirit of Mexican Fiesta alive."
Mercado and her team came up with a new plan -- with a drive-thru community event- filled with music, and dancing -- celebrating Mexico’s Independence Day on Sept. 16.
"Because of them I able to go to my dream school," Iliana Rojo, a student volunteering at the drive-thru event told FOX6 News.
Since its existence, the Wisconsin Hispanic Scholarship Foundation has raised more than $1.7 million in scholarships for students seeking higher education.
"Education can open the doors wherever you are," Mercado explained.
Mercado is living proof.
"I was raised in Mexico, you can tell by my accent," Mercado said.
Born and raised in Jalisco, Mexico, Mercado knew the value of an education. She migrated to Milwaukee where her husband was already established.
"I thought the transition should be very smooth. But I was surprised because it was not!" Mercado recalls.
Mercado describes a feeling of helplessness not understanding the English language.
She decided not to let it stop her.
"I went there to learn English," Mercado said.
Mercado took classes at Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) where she was introduced to the Wisconsin Hispanic Scholarship Foundation -- giving her a way to also connect with her culture.
"It was a place that gave me an opportunity to improve the quality of life in our community through education," Mercado recalled.
Mercado became executive director in 2002. She also led the effort to bring the first Mexican Consulate to Wisconsin.
"With Teresa, it's non-stop how you see her now is her year-round," Zaida Hernandez, another student at the event described. "I am the first person in my family to go to college and receiving a scholarship makes a difference."
Colorful and lively as ever-- the drive-thru event and other efforts have raised more than $25,000 for scholarships this year. The foundation also gave away 15,000 tickets to the community for Mexican Fiesta 2021.
Mercado says she is grateful for all the volunteers that support their organization every year. Without them, these events would not be possible. Mercado says during these unprecedented times, she is more determined than ever to make sure the door to education stays open.
Learn more about the Wisconsin Hispanic Scholarship Foundation.