Celebracion Latina: Multinational Fest Just One of Many Ethnic, Cultural Reasons to Party

By Tischler, Gary | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 13, 1998 | Go to article overview

Celebracion Latina: Multinational Fest Just One of Many Ethnic, Cultural Reasons to Party


Tischler, Gary, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The weather - steamy unto suffocating - is familiar enough for Washington on this late July weekend. The landmarks near this stretch of the tourists' Pennsylvania Avenue - the Capitol, the Post Office Pavilion, the National Theatre - look as they always have. But the sounds and smells, and even some of the sights, are far from a tourist's expectations.

Bolivian pipes huff into earshot, playing off the thumping beat of a salsa band. On a stage, a male singer with Elvis sideburns sings Latino-flavored rock 'n' roll. T-shirts sport the image of Che Guevara. Over it all wafts the pungent aroma of fried bananas and smoked pork.

"It's like entering another world," says Carol Muller of Washington, who came to take a look.

It's the 28th annual Latin American Festival, a spectacular weekend display of food, crafts and music - including a four-hour parade of American nations - that every year draws 500,000 people. It's just one more example of Washington's talent for celebrating different worlds, from the spectacular variety of cultures in the Western Hemisphere to Shakespeare's birthday in the spring.

Even over the next two to three months, festivals large and small - of ethnic heritage, of neighborhood, of arts - remind us that this capital city that embraces the whole world touches also the hearts of neighborhoods.

For Eduardo Perdomo, president of the board of directors of this year's festival, the event is full of meaning.

"This is a great opportunity to show the diversity of the Latin American community," he says. "It's a vivid example of how we are heading toward the global economy, that this is the age of multicultural diversity."

Mr. Perdomo, 59, a construction contractor who came to the United States from Colombia 30 years ago and now lives in Mount Vernon, can remember when the festival started out as a small event in Adams Morgan that drew 8,000 people. The festival's expansion, he says, reflects the growth of the Latin American community in the Washington area - from about 80,000 28 years ago to 500,000 to 600,000 today.

* * *

Indeed, this is a family event. Families, the majority of them Hispanic, are in great evidence at the festival, which stretches from Ninth Street to 12th Street along venerable Pennsylvania Avenue, with music stages at either end and at 10th Street.

T-shirts and flags can be seen in the crowds milling around the stages, with the El Salvadoran flag waved often, as befitting the people who make up the largest part of the Latin American community in the Washington area. There are Lone Star state flags and soccer T-shirts, and the face of Che Guevara still has its nostalgic revolutionary pull.

Along the route of tents and food stands, you can buy vaquero shirts from Bolivia and a host of CDs and tapes featuring Latino musical stars. Framed and hangable photographic portraits of the late and hugely popular singer Selena, murdered by the president of her fan club, stand beside paintings of the Virgin Mary and sell out fast.

The aromas from stands that often appear to be family operations are pungent and strong, hypnotically spicy and full of smoke and flavor - grilled tortillas stuffed with cheese and pork, fried bananas, relleno dishes, a chicken stew, fried green plantains, black beans, enchilada dishes and a mountain of diced tomatoes with plentiful onions. …

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