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Latino Festival expands focus
Food, music and games added to this year's event
Sharon Ortiz-Garcia (left), Jaime Herrera (second from left) and Eli Salgado (right) are among several local leaders putting together a Latino festival Saturday at the Smith River Sports Complex. Billy Russo (second from right) is director of operations at the sports complex. (Bulletin photo)
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer
Don’t be fooled by the name; Saturday’s Latino Festival will have something for everyone.
The festival, which was organized by the Latino Community Council and is in its second year, will take place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Smith River Sports Complex.
The Latino Community Council is comprised of multiple leaders in the area Latino community.
According to Sharon Ortiz-Garcia, who is an epidemiologist with the Virginia Department of Health and a member of the Latino Community Council, this year’s festival has a broader focus than the previous year’s event.
Last year’s festival, which took place at the National Guard Armory, was more tightly focused on connecting area Latinos with health and medical services in Martinsville and Henry County, Ortiz-Garcia said.
This year, health care representatives will once again be on-site, along with 25 to 30 interpreters, but there also will be live music, food, games and raffles.
“The purpose of the festival is to offer information to the Hispanic Latino community and the community in general on available services associated with health, mental health and general services and how to access them,” Ortiz-Garcia said. “Also, it’s going to give us an opportunity to bring the Hispanic Latino community together and celebrate the culture. It’s going to be a fun day.”
Music will be provided by local Latino band Ruta 58, which is offering its services free of charge, Ortiz-Garcia said. Area restaurants El Norteño and El Parral will sell food on site, and the complex’s concession stand will be open.
Also, she said, there will be games for children and adults, including inflatable moon bounces, as well as a raffle.
“We’re going to be selling raffle tickets for $2 each,” Ortiz-Garcia said. “We’re raffling a 7-inch tablet, a boy’s piñata and a girl’s piñata. That’s basically to try to raise funds so we can come back and do this next year.”
Billy Russo, director of operations at the sports complex, said the festival is a natural fit for the venue.
“The sports complex was developed for a lot of different reasons,” he said. “Community vitality and quality of life is one of them. We serve a diverse demographic of people, and this is a perfect event to do that.”
Many members of the Latino community already use the complex, Russo said, but those who have not yet had a chance to visit it hopefully will come Saturday and see what it has to offer.
“Our mission has always been to serve every person in this community in some way,” he said. “I think this is one of those ways to do that.”
Piedmont Community Services (PCS) is one of the major partners of the event, Ortiz-Garcia said, as that organization has helped line up the health care representatives and vendors.
Last year’s health festival drew 204 participants, she said, and this year she expects that number will double — and hopefully even triple — thanks to the additional activities and more extensive advertising.
“We want to bring the community together,” said Eli Salgado, a member of the Latino Community Council and MHC Dreamers. “That’s why it’s open to (everyone). It’s important that the Hispanic community along with the American community can get together and interact with each other, get to know one another.”
Pastor Jaime Herrera of Casa De Alabanza, who also is a member of the Latino Community Council, agreed.
“There’s something for everybody,” Herrera said. “The Hispanic community can get together with community services, but it’s open to everybody. Anybody who wants to come is very welcome.”
Herrera said that he’s grateful that his church was able to contribute interpreters to the festival.
“From my point of view, it’s a blessing,” he said. “We realize how many needs we have in the Hispanic community here. And I know the (local health) services want to serve the Hispanic community, too, but the language barrier is kind of hard.”
“We’re already planning for next year. We’re really excited about it. We had very good results from the last Latino Fair, and we expect very good results with this one,” he added.
Admission to the festival is free. Overflow parking will be marked, Russo said.
Those interested in partnering with the festival, offering a sponsorship, volunteering as an interpreter or who have any other questions about the event may call Ortiz-Garcia at 692-5426.