Ten years ago, the Asheville Art Museum sponsored an exhibit by a group of fiber artists from Latin America. In an effort to broaden the scope of the exhibit, the museum, along with the Asheville branch of Catholic Social Services, decided to expand the events around the visit to include a more in-depth look at the Latin American experience.
“The community started thinking about how we could form an event around [the exhibit],” explains Edna Campos of the Asheville Latin Americans for Advancement Society. “And we saw the need for there to be some kind of event where people could celebrate their culture, where Latinos could gather and have a place to share our music and share our experiences.”
The event was successful enough for organizers to consider trying it again, and by the following year, the event — now titled La Fiesta Latina — had become a tradition.
A decade later, Fiesta Latina has grown into the largest Latino festival in the region.
Free to the public, the festival offers a multitude of nonalcoholic, family-friendly activities aimed at reaching the diverse Latino community in Western North Carolina. In addition to festival staples like arts and crafts, music, ethnic foods and face painting for the kids, Fiesta Latina also hosts a dance competition, salsa lessons and a full-size tennis court where festivalgoers can channel their inner McEnroe.
What does tennis have to do with Latin culture?
“The Aston Park tennis program has been given some grant money from the North Carolina Tennis Association and the National Tennis Association to do more recruitment in minority communities,” explains Campos. “They’re bringing a court-sized setup for tennis. I think it’s going to be great. We’re always looking for ways that we can connect families with positive recreation activities.”
In addition, the Fiesta will host information booths from local organizations, including Mission Hospitals, which will have their mobile-care van there to provide free screenings. Local employers will also be on hand, providing information about potential job opportunities.
Campos says providing an outlet for local businesses and organizations to reach the Latino community was a major consideration for organizers.
“Part of the Fiesta is to offer a place for people who have a service or information that would help the Latino community make that connection,” she explains. “We always have people that are wanting to be in contact with us, so we welcome them to come out. I’m sure we’ll have some politicians show up, and that will be good. There is an election this year, and the Latino vote gets larger each year in North Carolina.”
But that’s not to say the festival isn’t also about cutting loose and having a good time. Attendees can enjoy a Mexican folk ballet, kick back for a performance from local Capoeira artists — an African-influenced Brazilian martial-art form derived from dance — or hit the dance floor during sets from several local musical acts slated to perform. Local performers have been a big draw at past festivals, both inside and outside the Latino community, Campos notes.
“We have a lot of people who are not Latino that come out for the music and the dancing,” she says.
This year, scheduled artists include classic salsa outfit Nuevo Montuno, Raleigh’s Rey Norteño, and flamenco-jazz trio Quebrao.
“I have been fortunate enough to have performed a least three times in this particular event,” says Quebrao’s Juan Benavides. “What is exciting about Fiesta is the fact that the Latin culture gets to express itself in a variety of fields: music, dance and elements of the many ethnic combinations that exist within our cultures like food, customs [and] attire.”
But, for Benavides, there’s more at work than just having a good time.
“For me, it is very important to share my culture,” he says. “It’s part of this ongoing cultural integration that brings awareness and consciousness in this country, which I think is much needed at this time in history.”
And while the fundamental elements of the Fiesta have gone unchanged, organizers this year wanted to ease some of the headaches of downtown parking and accommodate the ever-growing number of activities and vendors by changing the venue, opting to capitalize on the space available at the Western North Carolina Agriculture Center. It’s a change Campos believes the Latino community will embrace.
“I think our folks will turn out,” she says. “They’ll just want to come and see what it’s like now that it’s at the Agriculture Center. And we’re really hoping that moving this out south and east will be an opportunity for us to attract more families from the Hendersonville area and beyond. Because we have lots and lots of Latino families further west that don’t have as many recreational opportunities.”
No matter what the turnout, there will be no shortage of activities and shared goodwill. And Campos says that’s exactly what the festival is all about. “We want to make it better and better every year. Not necessarily bigger, but better.”
[Dane Smith is a freelance writer based in Asheville.]
who: Fiesta Latina
what: A family-friendly festival highlighting Latin culture
where: Western North Carolina Agricultural Center (1300 Fanning Bridge Road, Fletcher)
when: Saturday, Oct. 13 (Free. For more info, visit www.ymicc.org/fiesta_latina or call 252-4614).
12:15 p.m – Campesinos de Chiapas
1 p.m. – Rey Norteño
1:30 p.m. – Centro Esportivo de Capoeira Angola
2 p.m. – Nuestro Centro Dance Contest
2:30 p.m. – Ballet Folklorico Mexicano de Asheville
3:30 p.m. – Maria and Salseros 828 demo
4 p.m. – Andres Montoya salsa lessons
5 p.m. – Nuevo Montuno
7 p.m. – Quebrao
8 p.m. – Rey Norteño