Danza Azteca Dancers in colorful, shiny regalia with large feather headdresses, moving to the rhythmic beat of drums and the call of conch shells kicked off Rohnert Park’s first annual Latino Festival last Sat. at the City Center Plaza. Old and young alike were mesmerized by the group, and entertainment continued throughout the day including Afro-Latin Funk by Sang Matiz, a Quinceañera Runway show by Conexion, Cuban music by Carlitos Medrano y Sabor de Mi Cuba and Ballet Folklórico Paquiyollotzin, among others.
The highly anticipated event proved to be a success. After an initial welcome by Crystal Diamante and the Latino Alliance, Rohnert Park Mayor Gina Belforte spoke about how the city is working with Latino community leaders to meet the needs of this important community. Only a few months ago, Belforte brought community leaders to a mayor’s breakfast to have a conversation about what was working for the Latino community in Rohnert Park, what wasn’t working and how they could make it better.
“Since that time that little spark has created a rocket ship that has taken off in Rohnert Park,” says Belforte during her speech.
“Twenty-six percent of the people that live in Rohnert Park are Latinos. It’s an outstanding community. What has happened is that a voice has been created in Rohnert Park. Change is happening in this city because business leaders like Frankie [Lemus], Shelly [Gomez], and Marie [Sandoval] all stood up and said ‘these are the things that we need changed,’ and we are all working together to make that happen.”
A variety of vendors and informational booths, and a jumpy house and activities for children made this free, family-friendly event educational and fun. Many Latino food purveyors were on hand selling traditional favorites such as tortas, enchiladas, tacos and empanadas, as well as some more unique items such as Arroz Chaufa, a Peruvian style fried rice. In addition, the “Car Show & Shine,” hosted by the Latin Rollers, displayed dozens of shiny classic and low rider cars.
The newly formed non-profit organization behind the creation of the festival, the Latino Alliance, aimed to bring the Latino community together to celebrate their diverse cultures and traditions. They are committed to positive, social change, civic engagement and community outreach.
“I thought this [the festival] was really important for the whole community to see the diversity of the Latino culture,” says Sylvia Lemus, a member of the Latino Alliance. “For example, Cinco de Mayo is more of a Mexican tradition, but this event includes a lot of the other cultures such as Salvadorian, Puerto Rican, Peruvian, Cuban and so many others. I think it’s important to celebrate the diversity in the Latino culture.”