By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator 

In a colorful, festive display, the Hispanic community came together under hot, but vividly blue skies to celebrate the contributions of cultures throughout the world at the Latin Festival on Sept. 16 at St. Pius X Church in Baton Rouge. 

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Riding a mechanical bull was the highlight of the Latin Festival for many children. Photos by Debbie Shelley | The Catholic Commentator

 

According to Julia Scarnato, executive director of the Hispanic Apostolate of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, the first Latin Festival was held in 1986, originally a project of the youth ministry of the Hispanic Apostolate. It was designed to bring together Baton Rouge area Hispanics in order to share the diverse cultures in the country. Originally called the Feria Hispana, the event took place on the grounds of St. George Church in Baton Rouge. 

The Feria Hispana continued at St. George until 1995 at which time it was moved to the Catholic Deaf Center, with its name changed to Festival Latino. 

In 2013, due to the steady growth of the Hispanic community, the festival found a new home on the state fairgrounds in Baton Rouge. 

“This location was a much more convenient venue to accommodate the ever-growing crowds that attended,” said Scarnato.

The year 2016 marked the festival’s 30th anniversary. However, because of the devastation that came to the Baton Rouge vicinity that year following historic flooding, the festival had to be postponed. 

“For the last 31 years the tradition has continued, bringing together people for an entire day of delightful food, lively music, family fun and friendship. Our Festival Latino welcomes residents of Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Lafayette and their surrounding areas regardless of national background. As a medium for building community across ethnic lines, its principal sponsorship is the Diocese of Baton Rouge,” said Scarnato. 

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Mariachi Jalisco delights people gathered to celebrate their heritage.

 

Entirely in the hands of volunteers, this festival is the principal annual fundraising project for the Hispanic Apostolate. 

Scarnato said, “We are especially welcoming of students from high schools, colleges and universities who are eager to learn about and interact with our cultures. We welcome all feedback from these young folks and are glad to receive their comments. 

“As we reminisce about the last 31 years, it is a joy to realize how the Latin Festival has grown in many aspects. As more than 4,000 people come each year, we draw extensive media coverage, especially as we have been able to draw internationally recognized stage and music performers. However, our success does come with considerable expenses. 

“In order to sustain and realize fundraising success, we count on the generosity of our sponsors, the majority of whom derive from Hispanic business enterprises. As a non-profit organization we are very grateful to these sponsors which include attorneys, restaurants, car dealerships, communication specialists and entertainment locales. The Mayor-President of Baton Rouge, Sharon Weston Broome, has attended and eagerly supported this annual celebration of the Baton Rouge Area Latino population.” 

Speaking of the move to St. Pius, Scarnato said, “This was due to the rental cost of permits at some previous venues.”

She concluded, “It is a gift from God for the Hispanic community to have this kind of event to bring the family together and feel that our values ​​are still alive and that the Hispanic Apostolate is always there to promote initiatives that promote culture and respect.” 

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Rey Diaz plays the trumpet during a concert by Mariachi Jalisco, a Cuban band that plays Mexican music, at the Latin Festival Sept. 16 at St. Pius X Church in Baton Rouge. The Latin Festival celebrates the diversity of cultures in the country.

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Hugo Arce cooks tacos al pastor for hungry Latin Festival attendees. 

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Reigning royalty Beatriz Arias, left, Miss Cuba, and Julia Lopez, queen of the Latin Festival, mingled with the Latin Festival attendees. 
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 Justin Calix and Iam Cruz enjoyed the Batman and Spiderman inflatable dolls they received at the festival. 

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The bumper boats were popular with the children attending the Latin Festival.