Oh, Ol'e! Hispanic Fair Moves to a Larger Venue to Celebrate Its Second Year with Dance, Music, Food and Fun

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Even if your high-school Spanish is a little rusty and your idea of fine Mexican cuisine comes from a restaurant with a drive-through, you're still likely to find something to appreciate at the second annual Greater St. Louis Hispanic Fair this week-end at Jefferson Barracks Park.

You're also in for an eye-opening experience if you believe Hispanic people find their origins only in Mexico. The two days of entertainment, food, educational displays and activities highlight the diverse cultures of Latin American countries stretching from Mexico and the Caribbean to the tip of South America.

Hispanic Festival, Inc., the organizers of the fair, this year moved the popular event from its original site at Faust Park in West County to "bring the fair a little closer to the center of the Hispanic community."

Yes, such a thing does exist. The 1990 census indicated approximately 1 percent, or 25,000, of the area's population was of Hispanic ancestry, although some speculate that uncounted or undocumented immigrants may push the actual number to twice that.

"There are many people who won't answer those census questions," says Rebecca Velazquez, one of the coordinators of the Hispanic Fair. "We are kind of similar to many other minority communities in that regard, kind of closed."

St. Louis' Hispanic population is spread literally all over the map. The closest thing to an actual barrio to be found here is near the city's South Grand area, a collection of neighborhoods known for their cultural and ethnic diversity. Here, Hispanic groceries, eateries and other businesses cater to a significant concentration of people from Mexico, Cuba and Central American countries.

"Granite City and other cities on the east side have also always had some kind of Mexican-Amer ican population," Velaz quez says. "People who were coming up after the Depre s sion years to Chicago, and as Chicago started overflowing, a lot of them sto p ped off elsewhere in Illinois."

Many South American immigrants -- predominantly professionals such as doctors, lawyers, business people -- have settled in North County, although Velazquez says they do not live in one distinct neighborhood.

For all of its geographic diversity, the Hispanic community in St. Louis is well-organized and essentially unified. A successful Hispanic Chamber of Com merce this year observed its 15th anniversary. Numerous professional, religious and political organizations cater to its unique needs. And last year, the first Hispanic Fair drew an estimated crowd of more than 10,000 people.

The fair and its organizers have a three-fold purpose, Velazquez says.

"Naturally we would like to unite all of the Hispanic nations under one banner, not so much for political reasons, but mostly to . …

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