A conversation between Latinos Unidos de New Hampshire members Juan Caravallo and Hector Veletes 12 years ago blossomed into a longstanding city event that raises money for college-bound students. Last year the Latino Festival brought in $35,000 in scholarship money.
Alejandro Urrutia, president of Latinos Unidos de New Hampshire, hopes to raise more money at the 12th annual Latino Festival, which will be held at Veterans Memorial Park in Manchester on Saturday, Aug. 20, from noon to 8 p.m.
“Some very good, very talented students [don’t get the scholarships],” he said. “It is something we like to be able to offer more of but we need to get more sponsors.”
Each year the festival draws between 5,000 and 10,000 attendees. Last year an estimated 8,000 took part in the celebration, despite heavy rain that morning.
Food is an important part of the festival, Urrutia said, noting that cuisine from Latin and Central America, including dishes from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and Colombia, will be sold at the event.
“It’s probably easier to tell you what foods I won’t like there than what I like,” Urrutia said. “I like everything.”
Such traditional dishes as tamales (meat wrapped in corn leaves or plantain leaves topped with red or green chili sauce) are common to all Latino countries.
“The leaves keep [the tamales] moist,” Urrutia said, adding that he expects Mexican chiliquiles (meat served with hot sauce and sour cream), Colombian empanadas and papusas, a Central American variation on the tortilla, made with meat or cheese, to be served at the event. Jarritos, a Mexican soda, and Agua de Jamaica, water infused with hibiscus flower, will also be available for purchase.
Many Latino cultures will be represented in the festival’s entertainment. Among the performers will be popular Mexican singer Veronica Robles, Ecuadoran bachata band Grupo Fuerza Quichelence, Fulton Vaz and the Taller Borinqueño Dancers. Another performer will welcome audience members on stage to try the popular dance-exercise zumba. Diego Cataño, president of the Colombian Association of New Hampshire, has been tapped to serve as festival marshal.
“From noon to 7:30 p.m. there is going to be activity on that stage,” Urrutia said.
Representatives from the Small Business Administration will be present at the event, as Urrutia said a lot of talented Latinos come to America without knowing how to open a business of their own. “In these times of economic uncertainty, for many people a good option is to open their own business … [the Small Business Administration] is a great asset,” he said. The New Hampshire Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees and the Girls Scouts of America will also participate in the event.
Urrutia noted the most important reason to host such an event in the city is to allow different Latino cultures to be showcased.
“We are seen as one group, but in reality we are a very diverse group … we are different not only in the way we speak but the folklore and culture backgrounds,” he said. “[The festival] is a way to show that diversity.”
Urrutia said the celebration also helps improve public perception of the Latino community.
“It’s sad to say but many times when Latinos are in the newspaper or on TV it’s because something happened, something not associated with a positive event,” he said. “There are a lot of bad things that happen in every community and it doesn’t matter where people come from.”
“We want to show [the community] that things like that are not just a stereotype of the Latinos and we want to show them something positive,” he said. “The Latino festival has never had any incidents — it brings people together, Latino and non-Latino.”