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