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See local Hispanic culture on display at Latino Fest
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Linda Penaloza performs during Latino Fest at the Midland Greenway Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

By Kenneth Hucks

The Hispanic Alliance held its first Latino Fest, a festival dedicated to Gainesville’s Hispanic community, food, and music, on Saturday, Oct. 6.

The event, headed by company Hispanic Alliance founder Vanesa Sarazua, brought together local businesses and performers to showcase Latino culture in Hall County. It included food stands from local establishments like Carniceria Tapatia, Los Scoops and Pico’s Hot Dogs.

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Kevin Martinez practices headers during Latino Fest at the Midtown Greenway on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

Diego Covarrubias, manager of Carniceria Tapatia, believes an event like Latino Fest has been a long time coming, as it puts a focus on a sizable group of people in Gainesville’s population.

“There’s not a spotlight anywhere and we’re close to 50 percent of the population,” Covarrubias said. “I mean, there’s other little events but nothing like this. We had a good turnout for being the first year.”

Sarazua says the Hispanic Alliance hopes Latino Fest brings attention to the contributions the Hispanic community brings to Gainesville at-large, as well as provide a platform for local artists to show off their work rooted in their culture.

“I think the Hispanic community has a lot to offer our local community,” Sarazua said. “We have a lot of culture, really good food, artists in our community that have no found a forum to do dancing and folklore. There’s a lot of different things that our community has to offer that doesn’t have a forum to come out and to be in the community. We want to be able to provide that and share that with the community and educate the community.”

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Vanesa Sarazua, second from left, founder and executive director of the Hispanic Alliance GA, stands for a photo with a group of performers during Latino Fest at the Midtown Greenway on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

For its first year, Sarazua says she’s happy with the turnout and variety showcased at Latino Fest, but hopes to see an even greater range of cultures given the spotlight should the event take place again next year.

“People are happy to have events like this,” Sarazua said. “The Guatemalan community came and danced today, the Peruvian community danced today, and the Mexican community danced their folklore today. We had an Aztec-Mexican dance as well. We feel that there’s that, plus a lot more to be represented in the following years. We hope this will be an annual event that we put on.”

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Attendees watch Linda, left, and Victoria Penaloza perform during Latino Fest at the Midtown Greenway on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

As for how the Hispanic Alliance plans to attract larger audiences, Sarazua says she wants to expand the range of featured guests beyond what it showcased in its first year, as well as actively seek out local artists to bring in their work.

“We have a lot more to offer than we were able to bring here today, so we hope that we will grow every year,” Sarazua said. “Bringing local Latino artists out to exhibit their works of arts and their paintings. We want to support the local Latino artist community, as well as businesses and the community as a whole.”

Aside from showcasing the Latino culture for the locals, Latino Fest is also acting as a bonding and teaching experience for families in attendance. Isaac Hernandez, owner of local ice cream shop Los Scoops, said he hoped the appreciation of the community Latino fest represents would span both the younger and older attendees.

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Tortillas are cooked at Carniceria Tapatia's booth during Latino Fest at the Midtown Greenway on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

“It’s to gather young artists and singers and enjoy the time,” Hernandez said. “It means so much to have young people and older people to have a good time with their families.”

Sarazua echoed Hernandez’s sentiment, saying that young members of the local Hispanic community should know and value the history that comes with the music, food and culture Latino Fest focuses on, even recognizing a local dance teacher who has helped keep its history alive.

“They need to show where they came from, their roots, and have their children know where they came from,” Sarazua said. “Today, we actually recognized Lupita Sosa-Smith who did the folklore. She’s been doing folklore for 25 years in Gainesville, teaching young people how to dance the folklore that their fathers and grandfathers have danced. It’s their roots. Today we recognized her as Hispanic Alliance and the community for the work she’s done for 25 years.”

Beyond events like Latino Fest, Hispanic Alliance aims to offer resources for local Hispanic families, such as English conversational classes, computer classes. Sarazua says it plans to offer lower-cost immigration services starting next year.