South Charlotte

Latin American Festival approaches

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

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

Organizers say there are new entertainments in this year's event.

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

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

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

Some groups performing 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.

Folklorico dances representing the customs of many of the countries of Latin America are a popular attraction on one of the festival's stages.

The dancers don colorful costumes; most are adults, but some performances incorporate children, says Arreaza.

Arreaza says the festival had been at the Mint Museum on Randolph Road until several years ago.

The 2007 festival was the last 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, 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. If there's ever a deficit in one type of funding, the money raised by cultural events can fill the gap.

As an example of how the funds are spent, Bellmas 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.