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San Jose Day Returns to Celebrate the 408 in Japantown

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a group of San Jose residents stand outside during a festival in their city
A group of San Jose activists, artists and organizers gather for San Jose Day in 2023.  (Alex Knowbody)

When Haley Cardamon interviewed rapper and activist Equipto in 2016, she was inspired by how hard he repped his hometown of San Francisco.

Cardamon — at the time a community college student running a local arts publication, B.A.C.K Magazine — learned from the Filipino lyricist about 415 Day, a celebratory gathering for San Franciscans to uplift one another. The event officially debuted that same year at Dolores Park.

As someone born and raised in San Jose’s East Side and downtown neighborhoods, Cardamon realized the hometown she loved didn’t have any equivalent. “Girl, you could do it,” Cardamon recalls Equipto telling her.

That’s how San Jose Day, formerly known as 408 Day, was born, with its first iteration held downtown in 2017. It gained traction and continued annually until 2020, when the event was shut down by the pandemic. It made its return in 2023.

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This year, the event is back and bigger than ever. Feeling reinvigorated, Cardamon believes San Jose is primed for a cultural renaissance.

“I’ll be honest, I don’t have a big interest in going to San Francisco and Oakland,” Cardamon says. “San Jose has so much going on. It’s very creative, and our culture has blossomed and grown in a way where people are collaborative and respectful of each other’s lanes. We survive in one of the toughest cities to make a living, and we hustle for each other.”

The 6th Annual San Jose Day will include live music, food vendors, Aztec and folklórico dancers, educational awareness groups, gallery artists and more. Among them, Cardamon is especially proud of the Silicon Valley Down Syndrome Network, which is hosting a Japanese Taiko performance.

“I’m excited about that; I’ve never seen a festival host a special needs group of youth doing a performance,” says Cardamon. “And everyone’s getting paid. That’s special to me.”

a musical performer is on stage in front of a large audience in San Jose
A San Jose performer captivates the crowd during San Jose Day in 2023. (Alex Knowbody)

Cardamon is a San Jose ride-or-die advocate. Having experienced housing insecurity during the 2008 recession in the city as a youth, she’s intimately familiar with the region’s struggles and the often inaccessible pathways for artists to thrive. That’s especially true in Silicon Valley, where tech innovation frequently eclipses the work of art innovators — both economically and culturally.

Like Cardamon herself, the event has roamed around San Jose’s diverse communities. It’s been held in the Gordon Biersch lot in downtown San Jose as well as the famed Mexican Heritage Plaza on Alum Rock Avenue. On April 6, Empire Seven Studios in Japantown — which has a bubbling creative scene — hosts this year’s edition.

Having brought in more than 7,500 attendees last year, Cardamon feels a surging momentum in her city.

 

“The energy was vividly euphoric and positive, so much love,” says Cardamon of last year’s festivities. “It was a pivotal moment for our event to know, and people were like ‘Oh shit, we’ve never heard of it before.’ We had over 98 artists involved. That made me realize I could do this. I want to give more of myself to this.”

Cardamon is in the process of finalizing her 501(c)(3) status as a nonprofit, and has also developed an arts and culture board to review applications for participating artists, vendors and community members.

Though not quite yet at the level of recognition as 415 Day or 510 Day, San Jose Day — in the hub of the Bay Area’s most populous county — is bound to keep growing. And as it does, Cardamon will be at the center, waving her San Jose flag.

San Jose Day takes place on Saturday, April 6, from noon–6 p.m., at 525 N. 7th St., San Jose. Entry is free. Details here.

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