Springfield organizations to host 1st New England Latino Festival this summer
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A new festival planned for the end of the summer in Springfield, Massachusetts, will bring together many of the existing Latin American cultural groups living and working in western Massachusetts.
The New England Latino Festival is scheduled for Aug. 25 and 26 at Riverfront Park. The event will highlight food and music from the Caribbean, South America, Central America and Mexico.
"The idea for this festival is to bring all of New England Latin Americans together. We want to bring in cohesiveness and union to all of our cultures," said Ruth LaVoice, a member of the board of directors for the Hispanic American Library.
The nonprofit, based at Union Station in Springfield, is partnering with another city organization, the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, to run the festival.
LaVoice said while the dominant culture in Springfield has been Puerto Rican, that has shifted over the years.
"For the longest time in Springfield, we've only seen just the Puerto Rican culture. And while it's great — I am a proud Puerto Rican. I was born in the island — this will bring in a sense of union in our community," she said.
There are about 883,000 Latinos in Massachusetts, making up 12.8% of the state population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
More than 16% of the state's Latinos live in the four western counties, with Holyoke having the most at 53.4%; followed by Springfield with 47.5%.
David Anthony Silva, the executive director of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, and Juan Falcon, the executive director of the Hispanic American Library, said the ultimate goal is celebrate all Latino cultures.
"We come from different countries, cultures and backgrounds, but we share a deep sense of family, community and faith. We understand the importance of hard work, perseverance and the value of education," Silva said.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, state Rep. Orlando Ramos, D-Springfield, and state Rep. Carlos González, D-Springfield, spoke at the event in support of the festival.
"I love when we have cultural arts events, festivals, music events, murals, because it shows a vibrancy of our community and we stand proud together as one," Sarno said.
Ramos said his family arrived from Puerto Rico when his mother was 9 years old. They lived in Milwaukee before looking for a place that had a Latino community. They settled in Springfield.
"And since then, the population of Latinos has only grown...to the point where we're almost half of the population and the Latinos of the city of Springfield deserve an opportunity to celebrate their culture," he said.
Latino organizers and political leaders from Enfield, Meriden and Hartford, Connecticut, also attended the event and plan to participate in the upcoming festival.