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Latino Fest celebrates diversity, culture in Appleton

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It was an afternoon rich in culture and full of celebration.

In a time of heated rhetoric, it served much as a community declaration: we’re neighbors and all are welcome.

Residents from throughout the Fox Valley gathered at Pierce Park in a day for and in celebration of our Latino community.

Latino Fest 2019 provided an afternoon of festive sights, sounds and some incredible flavors and aromas. It was the fifth annual event sponsored by Casa Hispana, a Fox Valley nonprofit that develops and implements economic initiatives to improve the quality of life for the region’s Hispanic population.

Ernesto Gonzalez Jr., president of Casa Hispana, said the event raises funds for scholarships, though carries a greater purpose.

“We’re here to celebrate diversity and show our presence, our culture and the diversity of the Hispanic culture we have in Wisconsin,” he said.

Food vendors served up a delicious variety from tacos al pastor to elotes locos.

Entertainment included live music and Aztec dance. 

Craft vendors offered their goods. Those with competitive spirits and iron-clad stomachs had the opportunity to compete for a cash prize in a jalepeno-eating contest.

The fest offered the greater Fox Valley a welcoming glimpse of the Hispanic culture.

In turn, it offered Hispanic residents a closer glimpse at the organizations, programs and businesses here in support.

Booths throughout the park provided information ranging from school programming to advocacy to job opportunities. Often, they also provide a little swag.

Dr. Tracy Siebers, clinical director for Centro Esperanza, was on hand to spread the word of their program — the only in the Fox Valley to provide Spanish language counseling services. It’s a collaborative effort between NAMI Fox Valley and Samaritan Counseling Center. Counseling can be more difficult when filtered through a translator.

It’s a program that can only be as effective as its outreach.

“Our Spanish-speaking neighbors aren’t always aware of all that’s available,” she said.

It was an important event in the midst of dividing times. 

One couldn’t blame Latino community members for feeling less than welcome given hostile words and aggressive arguments of late —  ever present and unrelenting — on the topic of immigration.

It wasn’t shut off at the park gates. A booth from the Outagamie County Republican Party displaying Donald Trump banners raised some eyebrows among passersby.

Yet smiles and warm conversations dominated the day.

Alderman Vered Meltzer said the diversity on hand and the celebratory spirit permeating the park spoke well of Appleton.

“We have a supported community; a secure community,” he said. “As a community, we’re protective and work to make people feel welcome and safe.”

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