‘Festival Hispano’ kicks off Hispanic Heritage Month in Wilmington

A pair of festivals celebrate the culture and heritage of Delaware’s Latino community up and down the state.

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The stage of the Festival Hispano, with bachata singer Luis Vargas on stage in Wilmington, Delaware. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

The stage of the Festival Hispano, with bachata singer Luis Vargas on stage in Wilmington, Delaware. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

Hundreds of people from Delaware and the surrounding area donned capes made of a variety of flags representing the Latino community as part of Hispanic Heritage Month.

The 46th annual Festival Hispano was held in Wilmington last Sunday, with big crowds taking in a parade down Fourth Street before the event. A second celebration is on tap this Sunday in southern Delaware’s Georgetown.

“[The] Latino community is growing and changing,” said Kevin Andrade, CEO of The Voice Radio and one of the organizers of the Festival Hispano. “In the United States, the Latinos are not the same like 50 years ago. We have different backgrounds, people with different mentalities.”

Traditionally, the festival started out as a free event, however, as the years passed, organizers started charging a fee, with all proceeds going to nonprofits that support Latino communities. Beneficiaries this year include La Casita, First State Community Action, La Esperanza, and the Rosa Health Center.

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According to Andrade, the money will be used to provide support for moms with young children, undocumented people, crime victims, and families.

These events are “not just about the culture, not about the music or the food,” Andrade said, “but to raise funds and make sure that people contribute to support local organizations.”

Events like these offer a way for community members to share a common thread in the culture and give Latinos the space to celebrate their way of being a Latino, said Carlos de los Ramos, who chairs the Delaware Hispanic Commission.

“We are a cobijita de parches, a little blanket made out of different patches and different color that we’re all united,” de los Ramos said. “We are made out of different colors and flavors with different backgrounds.”

According to the United States Census Bureau, as of July 1, 2021, there are about 62.6 million Latinos in the United States, making Hispanics the nation’s biggest racial or ethnic minority.

Delaware has 91,350 people who identify as Latino.

Despite the fact that the celebration is primarily for Latinos, people from other racial and ethnic groups were welcome to participate.

“It is an opportunity to be Latino for one day,” said de los Ramos.

“I feel like everybody should feel like they’re supported in a way no matter who they are,” Nichole Lawrence, godmother of her Latino friend’s daughter. She says they came to support their heritage, race, and to expose her goddaughter to her culture. “This event makes people of this particular race feel special and feel appreciated.”

This year’s event included more than 40 vendors serving a variety of food from Mexico and Central America, as well as local and international music performances, including the Guatemalan band Los Parentes de la Zona and reggaeton musicians like J Alvarez.

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Rubiela Ocampo serving for Las Delicias Del Calvo. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

A variety of cuisines were available too, with local dishes from Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, and more.

Las Delicias del Calvo, Orlando Valencias’ food truck, provided a fusion of Colombian and Puerto Rican traditions, including arepas, empanadas, sweet plantains with cheese, shish kebab, Colombian sausage, and more.

While the event brings Latinos and other groups together and raises funds for nonprofits, many said it also encourages people to start having conversations about what’s happening in the world. Those discussions also serve as encouragement for Latinos to get out the polls and vote, especially with the coming election in November.

“We’re not only people that just cross over the border, we’re hardworking people. We build communities and assets to whatever community we were in,” said Carlos Morales, a Puerto Rican music producer from Wilmington. He sees the growing Latino population and said they can make a difference by voting. “We as people, we need to forget about the red and the blue and just start voting for people on what they are going to actually do for us, not say what they’re going to do, but actually have a track record of doing for us.”

Carolina Lopez, on the left, alongside her friends, participating in the Hispanic Parade in Wilmington Delaware. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

Caroline Lopez, a Salvadorian Wilmington resident of 14 years said, “We want to let people know that we’re here and that together, we’re stronger.”

With pride, Lopez said she introduced her friends to the idea by having them dance along Fourth Street to the booming sounds of reggaeton and bachata while wearing specially designed dresses that represented countries in Central America including Guatemala and El Salvador. While it’s important to share traditions, foods, cultures, and languages, she said that Latinos also have to vote. “We have to let them know that we’re here and that we contribute for mostly everything,” Lopez said.

Georgetown will host its Festival Hispano Sunday, Sept. 18 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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