Under a desiccating August sun, El Centro Cultural served cultural refreshments to thousands of Hispanics from noon to 6 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 21, at Festival Hispano 2005 in Millsboro.
The 11th annual jamboree — celebrating the traditions of Latin America, from the Caribbean Sea to Lake Titicaca and the Panama Canal to the Strait of Magellan — sprawled across the fields of the Millsboro Little League Complex.
Above the entranceway arch, flags carrying the coats of arms and colors from countries — such as Colombia and Chile, Puerto Rico and Peru — waved patriotically in the midday breeze. Children, meanwhile, waved wildly at piñatas — their eyesight erased by blindfolds — as their peers chuckled at the absurdity and exhilaration of it all. Teenagers, in twos, threes or tens, strolled self-consciously across the complex grounds, discreetly campaigning for attention and casting sideways glances at carriers of contrasting chromosomes. Adults steered strollers, propped up parasols and persevered through queues to assuage their sons’ and daughters’ demands for water ice, balloons and smoothies.
With flamenco, salsa/meringue, marimba, mariachi, Andean dance, tacos, tamales, burritos, chicken kebobs, craft stands, carnival games and a Miss Hispanic Delaware contest, the festival featured attractions for all ages and ethnicities.
“We mix it up, we have something of everything,” said Allison Burris, El Centro Cultural’s secretary-treasurer. “It’s kind of like a six-hour free concert.”
First and foremost though, El Centro Cultural emphasized the educational opportunity that the afternoon afforded Hispanic youth.
“I hope that [attendees] remember that most of the programs are for children,” said Monica Viana, president of El Centro Cultural. “They don’t know the roots of their parents. Some don’t even speak Spanish. They have to be proud of their heritage.”
Viana’s bequeathing mentality stems from her own coming-to-America story. When the woman from Valparaiso, Chile, arrived here in the 1950s, her friends and family reminded Viana to stay true to her origins.
“When I became a citizen, they told me not to forget my past,” she said.
To maintain her bond with the continent of Simon Bolivar, Viana joined the Organization of American States (OAS), a hemispherical body based in Washington D.C., where she worked for three decades. Then, eight years ago, Viana’s friend Gonzalo Martinez, who helped found El Centro Cultural in 1995, asked her to join him at the center in Georgetown.
“He believed we could do something for our people in this country,” she said of Martinez, who has since relocated to Miami Beach, Fla. “Why can we not be all together for everything and not just this? I don’t know. The world would be a better place.”
Perhaps, she supposed, the coming generations, armed with ancestral lessons, would emerge more unified than their predecessors.
“The children are the future of our country,” she said. “I am not the future.”
Joana Flores, who came to Milford from Mexico eight years ago, was one of many parents who took their little ones Sunday to learn about legacies.
“I want my girls to know about my country, Hispanic people and Hispanic culture,” she said, speaking of her daughters Yarely and Angela. “I want them to know about all the people who live around here. I come from Mexico but I know people from Guatemala, Honduras, Puerto Rico.”
Xareni Pineda traveled from West Chester, Penn., so her daughters, Evelyn and Yonahandi, could perform Mexican dances with their troupe, Citlalli de Mexico.
“It’s great because the Spanish community keeps growing,” she said. “We need things like [the festival] to preserve our culture.”
Pineda was hardly the only out-of-state festivalgoer. Lee Held rode his Harley motorcycle 1,300 miles from Birmingham, Ala. to join family members — his sisters, Debra Christ and Cindy Szlasa, and brother-in-law, Stephen Szlasa, are residents of Ocean View — in Millsboro.
The celebration presented an opportunity for the Szlasas, with daughter Drew Elizabeth, and Christ, with son Owen, to take a cultural field trip — none of them are of Hispanic descent.
“Definitely the Spanish language is going to be a major part of the kids’ heritage. We thought we’d get them started early,” Stephen Szlasa said. “For the Delmarva Peninsula, there’s such an influx. I was one of those kids who took French in high school. Now, I’m like, what was I thinking?”
“These folks are awesome, they’re all so friendly,” Held added. “We’re all the same. We’re all people.”
The Festival Hispano is El Centro Cultural’s largest annual event of the year and, at the behest of late-U.S. Sen. Bill Roth, was named as a “Delaware Local Legacy” by the Library of Congress. The center’s next big activity will be Christmas caroling at The Circle in Georgetown, Del.
Funding for El Centro Cultural’s programs comes from the Delaware Division of Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, Discover Bank, Perdue Farms and Mountaire Farms. For more information about El Centro Cultural’s upcoming schedule or to volunteer with the organization, call (302) 854-9262.