For decades, this nation has lived in awe of the work of many Latino figures: the speed of Emerson Fittipaldi’s Indy car, the high fashion of Oscar de la Renta, the artwork of Frida Khalo and the guitar riffs of Carlos Santana.
And on Aug. 24, Wabash Valley Progressives will celebrate the work, contributions and culture of the local Latino community with its Third Annual Festival Latino, which is free and open to the public, from 4-11 p.m. on the Riverwalk downtown.
Many festival favorites return this year — as piñatas for youngsters, several Latino food vendors, the popular mariachi band Grupo Bembé performing at 8 p.m. — and fireworks will again light the sky above the Wabash River at 9:15 p.m.
In its inaugural year, the festival attracted around 1,500 visitors, and it nearly doubled in size last year, organizers say.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the permanent population of Latino residents here hovers just above 2%, the percentage rises significantly during the summer and fall melon harvests as producers depend heavily on migrant labor.
Wabash Valley Progressives president and festival committee chairman Ray McCormick noted that family farms in our area have come to know and love the workers they depend on, saying they value not only the work ethic and economic contributions the Latino people bring to our area but also their tendency to be so family- and faith-oriented.
This local celebration of Latin American culture and its contributions comes just about three weeks ahead of the kickoff of National Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 by President Ronald Reagan in 1988.
While many Latino or Hispanic cultural festivals around the nation will charge $10 or more for entry, McCormick pointed out that that the local celebration is still free, citing the importance of making sure all are welcome and able to attend.
“We want people to feel welcome,” he said. “We want everyone to take in the Latino culture and feel that this is a great place to live.”
When asked if he has felt any resistance to the festival this year amidst heated immigration debates, McCormick said he has not.
“Our community wants to celebrate what we have,” he said. “Here is a chance to celebrate. So, come out, take it all in, and see this wonderful setting and event.
“Experience the joy and laughter,” he said. “Don’t miss out.”
In the event of rain, the festival will move to the Riverfront Pavilion at 102 N. Second St.
However, according to McCormick, he is in charge of the weather and “there is no danger of rain on (Aug. 24),” he guaranteed with a laugh.
Wabash Valley Progressives is still in need of volunteers for setup and cleanup for the Festival Latino. Setup will begin at 10 a.m.
Anyone interested in volunteering is encouraged to show up and lend a hand.