By Donna Cope
The ever-popular Fiesta festival on Sept. 24 marks 20 years in Birmingham and Mobile Latin Fest returns for its second year Oct. 14. Both events honor Hispanic Heritage Month, which began Sept. 15 and runs through Oct. 15.
Alabama’s largest celebration of Hispanic heritage and culture, Fiesta this year celebrates ¡Somos Familia!, which means “We are Family.” The event offers a bounty of food, culture and music from 20 Latin American countries. Sponsored by the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (¡HICA!), Fiesta is a longtime fan favorite, providing musical entertainment, performing and visual arts, cultural education, food trucks with authentic Hispanic dishes, community engagement, children’s activities and famous “Lucha libre” professional wrestling acts.
For several years, Alabama Power and volunteers of the company’s service arm, the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO), have partnered with ¡HICA!, as well as supporting many initiatives and events for the Hispanic community in the state.
Bringing a taste of ‘home’
For Bolivian-born Debbie Bond, who is helping rally Alabama Power employee volunteers for Fiesta, the event feels like “home.”
Bond’s Bolivian mother married into an American military family that lived all over the world. The Bonds moved to Huntsville, Alabama, when Debbie was 12. An American citizen, Bond still relishes the Latin culture – the sights, tastes and sounds – left behind.
“I grew up in South America,” Bond said. “I mostly spoke Spanish, but I understood English pretty well. I have spoken English for 30 years now.”
Bond and three other members of APSO’s Magic City Chapter – Art Otero, Myrna Merced Serrano and Belinda Recio – all native Spanish speakers, will welcome guests to Alabama Power’s booth and activity tents. With the aim of assisting with community resources, Magic City APSO’s 20-volunteer team will hand out informational pamphlets and answer questions about the company. APSO member Brittany Faush is coordinating the team in setting up areas for games, giveaways, crafts and other activities.
Bond, who volunteered at Fiesta 2019, is excited to assist. She said that Fiesta allows Latin people to realize they are not alone, and that others have similar stories and backgrounds. To Bond, Fiesta provides a bit of culture that Hispanics miss from back home, such as the Latin music she loved growing up but was unable to find as a Huntsville teenager.
“It’s fun to be able to go to a place where you have foods you’re familiar with from your youth or your background,” Bond said. “But also for people from Alabama or the U.S., or any other country, it’s amazing to get a glimpse of what a different culture is like. Everybody is having fun and they’re together. There’s camaraderie, friendship – there’s this joy. It doesn’t really matter what your background is, you’re all enjoying a little Hispanic culture together.”
She believes it is good to share one’s culture with others, to allow them to consider a different perspective.
“I think that’s amazing,” Bond said. “I love it.”
Fiesta-goers can enjoy the event Saturday from noon to 8 p.m. at Linn Park in downtown Birmingham. Buy advance tickets for $12 or pay $15 at the gate. Children 12 and under get in free.
Revel in Mobile Latin Fest
Mobile Latin Fest returns Friday, Oct. 14, from 5 to 9 p.m. at Cathedral Square in downtown Mobile.
The goal of Mobile Latin Fest is to bring together the many traditions, dance, food and cultures, demonstrating the diversity of Latin countries. Presented by the Hispanic American Business Association of the Gulf Coast, this year’s focus is on fun and family, said Sylvia Skultety, HABAGC activities director. With the support of Mobile Parks and Recreation, the free festival will be held in conjunction with the city’s October Art Walk. Entertainment is free, and food vendors will provide authentic Latin specialty foods.
“The idea is to integrate the Latin culture, awareness and contributions to our community,” said Skultety, owner of Mobile Bay Real Estate LLC.
With a large crowd expected to attend Art Walk, Skultety said it’s a great opportunity to expose people to the traditions and customs that are celebrated during Hispanic Heritage Month.
“We want to do something to support our community and bring awareness about our culture and, at the same time, teach a little bit about what we have from the different cultures, different foods and different tastes of so many countries that have different dance, food,” she said. “It’s to give more inclusion to our community.”
“When we talk about Hispanic, here, we think Mexican,” noted Skultety, who is fluent in English, Portuguese and Spanish. “But we have Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia, Central America, Honduras. … I am from Brazil. There are so many cultures, languages and accents, the styles of food, traditions, types of dance – there are so many diversifications of every single country. That’s why we want to bring awareness.
“Mobile Fest is a way to educate and integrate a community to be part of that,” added Skultety, who came to the U.S. to study at the University of South Alabama, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in international business and marketing.
“That’s where I met my sweetheart,” she said,” and this has been home for me since 1984. My husband is from Bolivia, but my kids are American. So, you see, right there, we have that melting pot of different cultures and things that we have to adapt.
“We expect a great crowd, and we’ll have more food vendors this year, along with music and entertainment,” said Skultety, who is working with the city of Mobile to help provide more parking for Latin Fest.
“It’s going to be fun.”
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