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The Scarlet & Black

Latino Heritage Festival brings pride and greater learning

By Louise Carhart

To celebrate Latinx Heritage Month this September, the Des Moines Latino Heritage Festival will be held this weekend from Saturday, Sept. 24 to Sunday, Sept. 25 at Western Gateway Park in downtown Des Moines. The Festival, which started in 2001, is celebrating its fifteenth year by moving to the new location. Previously, the event was held on the river bridges in Des Moines, but has been moved to include the park and various event spaces in Western Gateway.

The event’s organizer, Joe Gonzalez, has worked with the Festival for all fifteen years. 2016 will be the first time he is fully in charge and he is looking forward to a variety of events that have a deep significance for him and Iowa as a whole.

“The setting is a little bit different and we’re looking forward to it,” Gonzalez said. “[I’m looking forward to] the Tapas and Tunes event, which is tomorrow [Friday]. The Festival doesn’t start until Saturday, but on Friday between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. we’re having a free event … this was the perfect opportunity, since we’re in the new venue and we’re downtown, to market our event.”

Those who attend Friday evening’s Tapas and Tunes will not only get to experience free food, beer and entertainment, but will also receive free admission to one of the Festival days. This effort to increase accessibility speaks to the ethos of the Latino Heritage Festival, where attendees are encouraged not only to enjoy the festivities, but also to either take pride in their heritage or realize the place of Latinxs in Iowan culture.

“The way we see it, number one, this is an opportunity to showcase our community,” Gonzalez said. “When we have people within our community that come to it it’s a perfect opportunity to show their pride and share their culture. Also, it lets them show what they contribute to this city, this state and this country because oftentimes the view on immigration, especially with the political climate, is negative. This showcases what we’re all about, traditions and everything.”

As the Festival has grown over the past 15 years, it has become the largest ethnic event in Iowa, according to the Festival’s website. The first Festival, in 2001, was postponed due to the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C.

“9/11 happened two weeks before our first Festival and as a courtesy and sign of respect we canceled the event, but we’ve been going ever since,” Gonzalez said.

One of the benefits of the event is that it allows Latinx communities in Iowa to show the pride they have for their specific community or country, as often the countries that fall under the “Latinx” category are grouped together and become singular.

“It’s 22 countries represented, it gives us a chance to educate folks that it’s not just Mexico, that it is many other countries,” Gonzalez said. “It educates the greater community about that culture and how better to learn than through music, art, food.”

The Festival has always been highly popular in Des Moines and well received. For both the Latinx and non-Latinx communities, it represents a chance for broader understanding and exposure to different cultures. This year’s event promises to be no different, with plans for multiples music acts including DJs and youth music groups, cultural booths that exhibit different facets of Latinx culture and food vendors selling a variety of things to consume.

“We’ve had a good reaction because people enjoy coming to our event. We want to continue to grow it … ours is a paid event and people come and have fun, they learn and experience culture and new things,” Gonzalez said.

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