The dancing, music and food of Latin American culture will be on full display at the Latino Festival this Saturday in the Museum Plaza in downtown Pensacola.
Grace McCaffery, owner of Latino Media Gulf Coast, helped create the Latino Festival, when it was originally called Latino Expo, as a way to help the growing Spanish speaking population connect with the local resources and agencies like the sheriff’s office and hospitals. 
Eventually, the crossing of ideas and information became a celebration of Latino culture and the connection between different communities that benefits everyone. 
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“It’s vital because it’s not just giving people information about these resources, but it’s allowing those resources an opportunity to make contact with people that need them and realize the need for cultural understanding of language (and) the ability to be able to communicate in languages other than English,” McCaffery said.  
The free festival will have food, music and activities from Mexico and various Central and South American countries. 
There will be folkloric presentations or cultural dances representing and celebrating Colombian, Mexican and Aztec traditions. 
Singer, composer and actor Willie Panamá, born William L. Duguid, will emcee and present the live performances. 
Panamá is Panamanian-American and claims Brooklyn, New York, as his home. Festivals like this are vital for people to hear and see the music of his culture, he said.
Panamá has shared the big screen with actors such as Denzel Washington in “Malcom X” and Jamie Foxx in “Any Given Sunday,” has played with Celia Cruz and Oscar D. Leon and worked with Herbie Hancock and Billy Ray Cyrus. 
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As a young boy, Panamá was drawn into Latin jazz and the fusion of other cultures such as Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Brazil and the U.S. He has seen the genre and many forms of the music creep into the U.S. with popular songs such as “Oye Cómo Va” and “Feliz Navidad.”
“The importance of this festival is to enlighten and to teach or educate this part of Florida about the Latino culture because of the fast growing communities,” Panamá said. “Pensacola is adapting to learn about the music, the food and then different aspects that are unknown to many people in the region.”
The vastness and richness of the region and cultures that make up Latin America is something McCaffery hopes to showcase Saturday. 
She wants the citizens of Pensacola to realize how large, diverse and growing the Hispanic community is in the area. Worldwide, there are 21 Spanish-speaking countries with their own history, cultures and people who have pride and love for their homes — and many are presented in Pensacola. 
“It’s something that I think people aren’t really used to seeing — even other Hispanics especially when they first come here,” McCaffery said. “They’re all Spanish speakers and they kind of huddle with a small group of friends that they make. But when they come to this festival, they realize how vast our community really is. It’s just very beautiful.”


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