Cross-cultural sharing

?Que pasa? !La Fiesta Latina, un evento maravilloso! ?Donde? Pack Square, al centro de Asheville. ?Cuando? 5 de junio, 1999. See? It’s not that hard to wax bilingual.

Indeed, that’s partly what Asheville’s second annual Latin Festival is all about, says steering committee member Edna Campos. “It’s a venture in cross-cultural sharing,” she notes. Specifically, it’s a chance for personas de todas edades y culturas (people of all ages and backgrounds) to “come out and share their own culture and get a taste of authentic music, food, arts and crafts,” as Campos puts it.

Showing the diversity of cultures within the Latin American spectrum is another reason for the festival, points out Campos (who is Mexican-American). “Many people make the incorrect assumption that all Latinos are the same,” she says, adding firmly, “We’re not.

If you like your diversity served up sonically, plan to bring along a lawn chair: The fiesta will serve up eight solid hours of live music. Con Clave (salsa and Latin jazz), Sol Rythums (hot Puerto Rican rhythms), Baile Salsa Cubana with Maria-Guajira (Cuban-dance demonstration and show), Bea Lamb and Fernando Serna (classics from old Mexico) and Greenhouse (bilingual praise and worship singing) are among the featured acts.

The masters of ceremony for this culturally rich extravaganza are WNCW-FM’s Alan Tinney and WLOS-TV’s Suzanne Hudson. Spinning Latin tunes between bands will be DJs Sandra Soto (from “Ritmo Latino” on WNCW-FM) and Jose Santiago (who specializes in Caribbean rhythms). And to help you feel even more like you’ve slipped south of the border, you can expect to see most of the entertainers sporting traditional folkloric costumes, according to Campos.

“We wanted to make it a real street festival,” she adds (last year’s fiesta was held in the Art Museum’s atrium), “with artisans selling their wares, food [vendors] and booths giving out information about services.” About 25 booths were planned at press time.

Kids can enjoy a traditional fiesta activity (while simultaneously releasing some of that end-of-school energy) by whacking away at pinatas — till they burst and the goodies come raining down. The young ‘uns can also get their faces painted and try their hands at becoming artisans themselves by making papelitos (tissue-paper cutouts) to hang as decorations. Also not to be missed by young or old: The Asheville Fire Department, with a real hook-and-ladder truck, demonstrating “scaling” — the next-best thing to leaping tall buildings at a single bound.

At the country-specific displays — such as the Puerto Rican booth and the Sister City booth (featuring Asheville’s sister city, San Cristobal, Mexico) — you can explore the crafts, clothing, musical instruments and other elements native to each country. And popular local restaurants will sell “all kinds of foods typical of Latinos,” relates Campos.

Servicios Hispanos, the Asheville Latin Americans for Advancement Society (who’ll be registering voters and handing out info in Spanish on the 2000 census) and Catholic Social Services are among the organizations set to hand out information during the festival. CSS “traditionally helps people in transition,” Campos explains; they’re also a festival sponsor, along with the Asheville Art Museum and the Asheville Parks and Recreation Department.

Why a Latin American festival in this mountain-bound town, where a lot of us aren’t even sure exactly which countries count as Latin American? For that very reason, actually. Campos cites census figures: The Latino population of Buncombe County doubled between 1990 and 1997, and the latest estimate (which Campos believes is low) identifies 4,700 people of various Latino backgrounds in our community.

The 13-member Fiesta Latina 1999 steering committee, itself a model of cross-cultural diversity, includes representatives from the Asheville Art Museum, the YMI Cultural Center, Catholic Social Services and the arts community.

“We’re really just trying to share some authentic festival activities, to share our culture in a few ways, to dispel some of those wrong assumptions,” Campos explains, adding enthusiastically, “Everyone’s invited, rain or shine.”

So stop dreaming about lazing on a beach in Ecuador or exploring the markets of San Juan, and take advantage of a chance to enjoy Latin America’s scents, tastes and sounds right here in Asheville … absolutamente gratis (that means admission is absolutely free).

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