Lake Norman & Mooresville

Latin American Festival slated for October

Symphony Park at SouthPark Mall will come alive Oct. 9, with the beat of Colombian pop/rock music, the sight of folkloric dancers, and the aroma of authentic tacos, empanadas and Cuban sandwiches.

It's all part of the 21st annual Latin American Festival, a cultural heritage celebration and fundraiser put together by the Latin American Coalition, Latin American Women's Association and the Mint Museums.

Organizers say there are new options in entertainment for this year's event.

Aterciopelados is a renowned Colombian group combining pop, rock and traditional sounds, according to Armando Bellmas, 42, director of communications for the Latin American Coalition. He says members of the musical group are also known for their involvement in various social and environmental causes.

Given their fame, bringing them to Charlotte to perform at the festival took time.

"It was a long process," said Tony Arreaza, events manager for the Latin American Coalition. Arreaza, 38, says he is a fan.

Some groups performing live for festivalgoers have strong local ties.

Arreaza says he strives to include bands from Charlotte and the surrounding area, such as Los Tarascos de Michoacán and Fuzion Latina.

Folkloric dances representing the customs of many of the countries of Latin America are a popular attraction on one of the festival's stages. Dancers don colorful costumes to entertain the crowd. Most of the dancers are adults, but some performances incorporate children, too, says Arreaza.

Arreaza says the festival had been held on the grounds of the Mint Museum on Randolph Road until several years ago. The 2007 festival was the last to be presented at that location.

Though it's smaller, the Symphony Park setting is working out well.

"It's an honor for us to host the festival there," said Arreaza.

The festival draws as many as 20,000 people over the course of the day, says Bellmas.

Whitney Smith, 29, the development coordinator for the Latin American Coalition, says funds generated by the festival are important to the coalition's work assisting and advocating for Charlotte's Latino population in a variety of ways. If there's ever a deficit in one type of funding, funds raised by cultural events can be used to fill the gap.

Bellmas cites a specific example of how this money might directly benefit programs. He says the coalition has begun an initiative to help immigrant and Latino youths access information on college and university scholarships and prepare for the SAT.

In addition to food, music and dance, the festival offers arts and crafts vendors, games and artists' demonstrations.