Latin American Culture, Diversity Celebrated at Hispanic Heritage Festival

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Oct. 2 – As performers danced and played music from many Latin American cultures at a Hispanic heritage festival on Saturday, many people were drawn to tables under a large tent. There, while escaping the rain, they found Damaris Ponciano-Jackson and his students helping people make piñatas, pinwheels, and flashlights.

Ponciano-Jackson is the director of the Éxito STEAM summer program at Centro Hispano in Frederick, which hosted Saturday’s festival. The Éxito program includes courses in STEM, arts, English and Spanish, and general life skills.

As visitors to her tent finished their crafts, Ponciano-Jackson encouraged them to decorate their creations with Hispanic patterns and colors. She said the inclusion of Hispanic designs was not only important to the festival, but also exemplified a central theme of the Éxito program: pride in Hispanic cultures.

“It shows our kids that being Hispanic is powerful,” Ponciano-Jackson said in an interview with The News-Post.

Frederick’s Centro Hispano held its second annual Hispanic Heritage Festival Saturday at the Carroll Creek Amphitheater and along the Creek Linear Park.

The festival took place during National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 to October 15.

The festival included the children’s tent, local food trucks, and performances by dancers and singers showcasing Bolivian, Mexican, Honduran, Colombian, Peruvian, Venezuelan, and Spanish cultures.

Maria-Teresa Shuck, director of Centro Hispano in Frederick, said the festival was not only a chance for people to celebrate their Hispanic heritage, but also for communities to share in the diversity of Latin America’s distinct cultures.

“We wanted to share this with the community at large,” Shuck said.

Centro Hispano de Frederick, on Willowdale Drive, off US 40, Frederick, formed 16 years ago to give immigrants resources to help them fully participate in the Frederick community.

For the first time, Centro Hispano de Frederick had local sponsors for the festival. Shuck said the first Hispanic Heritage Festival was such a success that she decided this year to involve other community organizations.

“We were very, very surprised at how much people took to the idea,” she said.

Shuck said the political climate of the past few years and the way some politicians in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere have talked about immigrant communities made it “a bit scary to stick your neck out” and involve various community groups in the festival. But, Shuck said, the responses she’s received have been overwhelmingly positive.

“Frederick is totally ready to embrace diversity and enjoy it,” she said.

Aleena Hassen, 17, and Caroline Gregory, 16, are students of Frederick High School and members of the Spanish Honor Society. The couple traveled to the festival to join Éxito de Ponciano-Jackson students as they helped children create crafts.

They made sure to catch the festival performances and take advantage of the array of restaurants.

“I ate at each of the food trucks,” Hassen said.

Sandra Molina, 35, attended the festival with her 4-month-old child and other family members.

Molina, whose mother is Peruvian and father Salvadoran, said it was important that people had the opportunity to “show their culture, in a way”.

“It’s really nice to see him in my community, even if it’s once a year,” Molina said.

Molina and her family used to travel to DC and other places outside of Frederick County to attend Hispanic festivals. She has now attended both Hispanic Heritage Festivals and, as someone who grew up in the county, said it was great to see how the area has developed culturally.

More than 11% of the county’s population identifies as Hispanic or Latino, and 11% were foreign-born, according to the 2020 U.S. Census.

Frederick County’s Hispanic and Latino population has increased nearly sixfold since the turn of the century, according to USA Facts, citing the US Census Bureau.

Molina said another reason she attended Saturday’s festival was to support her mother’s friend, who performed La Marinera, a Peruvian regional dance.

Molina’s mother met her friend through the Entre Mujeres (Between Women) program at Centro Hispano in Frederick. It turns out that her friend is the mother of a Peruvian national champion dancer La Marinera.

No matter the rain, Molina, her family and friends were thrilled to celebrate and share their cultures at the festival.

“Hopefully it was the second of many, many more,” Molina said.

Follow Jack Hogan on Twitter: @jckhogan

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