Festival Hispano to celebrate Guatemala

For the past 18 years, El Centro Cultural, a nonprofit arts organization, has been hosting Festival Hispano — a festival dedicated to celebrating Hispanic culture, music, art, food and traditions.

Coastal Point • File photo    : A crowd enjoys watching dancers at the 2009 Festival Hispano. This year’s festivities will focus on Guatemalan traditions, while still representing all hispanic cultures.Coastal Point • File photo
A crowd enjoys watching dancers at the 2009 Festival Hispano. This year’s festivities will focus on Guatemalan traditions, while still representing all hispanic cultures.

“It started in 1995, when the Hispanic community was just arriving in the area,” explained Allison Castellanos, treasurer of El Centro Cultural. “The first festival was actually held in a church in Georgetown. And they just got together to kind of do a celebration of Hispanic culture.

“Somebody had made tamales and passed them out. There was a family who had recently come from Mexico, and they performed traditional dances from Mexico. There was a musician from Guatemala who played the marimba. There were some social service agencies that shared some information. It was a real small, kind of family event, and I guess everyone had such a good time they decided to do it again.”

Now in its 18th year, the festival has grown to span the entire Millsboro Little League Complex, with three stages featuring simultaneous performances and a wealth of different foods available for purchase.

“There’s no intermission. There’s no breaks. It’s just one after the other,” said Castellanos. “It’s all traditional music, like folkloric, so we have traditional instruments and traditional clothes, things from Mexico, Guatemala, Bolivia, Puerto Rico — we have a number of countries represented on the main stage. We also have a children’s area where they have children’s performances, as well as information for children and families.”

Castellanos said that many local groups perform various dances and songs, including a marimba performance, groups from Bolivia will perform dance and music, and a Guatemalan dance group from Washington, D.C. will perform.

“A lot of the groups are local groups that perform year after year after year. That’s really the purpose of the event, is to give those local performers the opportunity to perform for the entire community, for them to continue to practice their art form.”

The festival, which will be held on Sunday, Aug. 19, from noon until 6 p.m., is free and open to the public. However, those attending are being encouraged to bring a little pocket money so they can try all the tasty treats available from various food vendors.

“I would say the food is tacos, tacos and tacos,” said Castellanos with a laugh. “We do have other things,” she added. “We have pupusas, and those are like the really thick tortillas that are cooked and deep-fried, after its been stuffed with beans or chicken or cheese or something like that. It’s originally from an area in El Salvador.

“We do have a local restaurant from Milford that’s coming this year, and they’re going to make some Guatemalan food. We also have a guy coming down from Wilmington who’s going to be selling Puerto Rico food, which is rice and beans and pork, which is really delicious. So, we have a bit of variety.”

Each year, the festival focuses on a particular country whose culture and heritage they wish to celebrate and share with the community. This year, the chosen country is Guatemala.

“This year we’re celebrating Guatemala as our invited country. We celebrate all countries, but we wanted to give a special emphasis to Guatemala because we have such a large Guatemalan population in Sussex County.”

A special presentation of a traditional Guatemalan artform, “Alfombras de Acerrin,” will also be on display.

“We invited one artist to come and do a ‘Carpet of Sawdust,’” explained Castellanos. “It’s actually a huge piece of artwork that is done on the ground, to look like a carpet, but the design is made out of different-colored sawdust. It’s something that is done in Guatemala and other countries in Central America as artwork. We wanted to do something a little unique, a little special to Guatemala and for the community to enjoy.”

There will also be more than 60 informational booths, providing information to attendees, by hospitals, political candidates, local businesses, social service agencies, law enforcement and vendors.

Castellanos said that approximately 5,000 attend the event each year, but the festival continues to grow in size.

“It’s hard to estimate, but we know that each year more and more people come,” she said. “It’s packed with activities and games, different things for kids and families to do. It has really grown in size, dimension and complexity. There’s something for everybody. Some people come for an hour. Some people come for six hours.”

Castellanos added that all are welcome to attend the event and she hopes the community will come out to show their support of local arts and maybe learn a little something about Hispanic culture.

“We want the festival to be very family-oriented and family-friendly,” she said. “A lot of people who come out for the first time are really impressed. We hope people will come out and enjoy the day with their kids and enjoy the day’s activities.”

The Millsboro Little League Complex is located on State Street in downtown Millsboro, across from the Millsboro Public Library. For more information on El Centro Cultural, visit www.elcentrocultural.org.