This weekend, Ogden Park will become a bastion of music, food and dance celebrating the traditions of Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela and many more Latino countries. Festival Latino has been a November tradition in Wilmington for fifteen years, ever since one day when a few Latino families gathered in the park for a picnic. The event has since evolved into a two-day festival that’s projected to draw 20,000 visitors. This growth parallels the expansion of the organization behind the festival, Amigos Internacional.
Despite its worldly title, Amigos Internacional was born in Wilmington. It is the primary activity, resource and crisis center serving Latinos of New Hanover and its surrounding counties. The group started in 1998, after Lucy Vasquez--a Mexican-American native of Los Angeles--organized a group picnic to help address what she says was a lack of community among Cape Fear-area Latinos.
"Festival Latino originally started for the Latino community because they felt so isolated. There were no social outlets for them. They were a very hidden population, very fearful of moving within the community. Stayed very much just between work and home and never went out."
The committee behind this first event became Amigos Internacional, and today, Festival Latino is intended for everyone, not just area Latinos. Vasquez says that in addition to organizing the festival, the group is busy providing English classes and connecting locals with area social agencies.
***This weekend’s Festival Latino event welcomes, for the first time, Brazilian and Venezuelan booths. On Saturday there will be all-day dancing and a Children's Fiesta until 4 p.m. On Sunday, visitors can enjoy food and music. For more information, visit Amigos Internacional's website.