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Fest brings Latino sounds, flavor to city; Key is to make two-day event fun.

Byline: Matthew Stone

WORCESTER - The constant pulse kept spirits and energy levels high for the thousands in attendance at the annual Latin American Festival, which wrapped up yesterday evening on Worcester Common.

Climbing costs and a tougher fundraising environment did not seem to put a damper on the two-day festival. The lineup of local and nationally known performers playing music from the Caribbean and Central and South America let up only for occasional interjections from the event's emcees.

Many seeking a break from the music horded around the food vendors lined up along Front Street selling a variety of hot dishes and cool drinks. The heaping piles of chicken and beef skewers, arepas (dense, corn-based pancakes of Andean origin), tostones (fried plantains popular in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Cuba), and empanadas (half-moon-shaped, meat-stuffed pastries commonly eaten in a number of Latin American countries) that vendors put out for sale quickly disappeared as the lunch and dinner hours struck.

Some seeking a break from the music sat calmly with friends in the fenced-off beer garden, a feature of the festival for a third year. Others explored the offerings at the crafts tables. Younger attendees took part in a schedule full of events geared toward their age group in the children's tent; this year was the first for the activity tent.

The weekend went off almost without a hitch, said organizers - save for the towing of a few illegally parked cars - after a few snags were hit this spring while putting together the 17th annual event.

In March, uncertain that they had the necessary support from the city Parks and Recreation Commission to be granted permission to sell beer on the Common, organizers withdrew the petition to waive the city's restriction on selling alcohol in city parks. Organizers eventually procured permission last month to fence off a beer garden at the back of the Common for the weekend.

Later in the spring, the flow of funds was interrupted as a few sponsors from previous years withdrew from funding this year's festival.

"About two months ago, I was a little nervous because it wasn't coming," chief organizer Carmen "Dolly" Vazquez said of the money needed.

The organizing committee still put together the necessary $100,000, including $21,000 for a police detail.

Juan A. Gomez, in his first year as executive director of Centro Las Americas, praised the event's organizers, including Ms. Vazquez.

"She has this sort of down to a science," he said. "We couldn't have a better group of folks to organize the event."

Centro Las Americas, the Worcester social services agency, organizes the festival each year.

Ms. Vazquez said the key to arranging the festival is to make the process fun.

"Having a fun group of people to help you helps a lot," she said on Saturday.

The organizers' fun translated into fun for others at the event this weekend. The festival provided opportunities for artisans, musicians and politicians.

Artisan Enrique Rafael Cabrera made the trek to Worcester from Miramar, Fla., for the 15th time to sell crafts, including marionettes that danced to the rhythm emanating from the stage.

"It's always fun to come here. It makes you feel young," he said. "It's always a joy to share Puerto Rican culture."

For the second year, local musician Timothy Lovett, or T-Luv, made an appearance on stage, rapping with friends.

"I think the crowd enjoyed themselves, just seeing different cultures get together and actually make music," said Mr. Lovett, adding that he plans to be back on stage next summer.

Where there are big crowds there are sure to be political candidates. City Council hopefuls took advantage of the opportunity to reach out to voters and enlist campaign volunteers.

District 1 candidate Samuel Rosario, who served as festival chairman in 2005 and 2006, had to step back from organizing duties so he could stump for votes this weekend.

"A lot of people (are) here celebrating family and culture," he said, noting the attendees' diversity. "It's also the Anglos who are here."

At-large City Council candidate Grace L. Ross said politicians do not focus enough on reaching out to Spanish-speaking voters. As a result, a number of voters she spoke with throughout the weekend - some in her beginning-level Spanish - seemed not to be as "jaded" as others.

"This is the part of running for office that I love," said Ms. Ross, who ran for governor last year on the Green-Rainbow Party ticket.

Maritza Cruz, also running at-large, said the festival provided the opportunity to speak with voters of all - not only Latino - backgrounds.

"You get many people from all parts of the city," she said, noting that greeting voters at the festival was easier than knocking on doors.


CUTLINE: (1) Aurea Rivera of Worcester claps along to the band N Q during the annual Latin American Festival on Worcester Common yesterday. (2) Trixtah dances during a break-dance competition at the annual Latin American Festival on Worcester Common yesterday. The dancing is referred to as "B-Boying," a term that predates break dancing, according to dancers at the competition. (3) Thirteen-year-old Ashley Maldonado holds her Chihuahua/Pekinese puppy clothed in a Puerto Rican flag.

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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Aug 20, 2007
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