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Festival Latino of the Berkshires Celebrates 25 Years This Weekend

Festival Latino Of The Berkshires 25 Anniversary
Festival Latino Of The Berkshires

The Festival Latino of the Berkshires is marking its 25th anniversary Saturday with an afternoon of food, dance and art in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

The festival’s origins date back to the 1980’s, with three Colombian immigrants living in the Berkshires.

“The founders of the festival are Liliana Ortiz-Bermudez, German Bermudez and Doris Orellana," said Festival Latino of the Berkshires Public Relations Director Erika Wainwright. “They wanted to see some kind of Latino presence in the area, but there was none. And they were going to Summer Fest in Great Barrington in the late 1980s, and the town of Lee was calling for community members to celebrate Lee Founders Day. So they have been involved in Summer Fest, but there wasn't a Latino presence there. So when they heard Lee's call for community members to celebrate Lee Founders Day, they saw the opportunity to create a celebration for Latin American culture as part of the Lee Founders Day celebration. So that's where they started, the summer of 1995.”

The yearly celebration of Latin American culture in the Berkshires has evolved.

“When the festival started, it was actually just intended to be a place for Latin American people to get together and have some fun, but over the years, the founders found in incredible support from the non-Hispanic community in the area, from the broader community, and over the years, we found the incredible educational impact that the Festival Latino has also had not just for non-Hispanic people in the area, but also for the Latin American community,” said Wainwright.

Wainwright says she’s a living example of the festival’s impact.

“I am from the Dominican Republic and I immigrated to the United States with my family when I was 2, and I grew up with the festival," she told WAMC. "So it wasn't just a way for me to connect with my own culture, but it was also a way for me to learn about a lot of the different diverse cultures within all parts of Latin America. So apart from having that very strong educational component not only for Latin Americans, but also for American students and adults and people of all ages in terms of learning about Latin American culture and language and art, but also a location where Latin American people can really express their pride and joy and reconnect with their culture in a place that's not home and being able to explore that more.”

Starting at noon Saturday, the festival will fill the Great Barrington town hall lawn as well as the neighboring St. James Place with food vendors, performers like local singer Laura Cabrera and more. Masks will be required for attendees.  

“Quetzalcuauhtli Mitotiani is a dance company from New York City, which celebrates the dance and music traditions of Mexico incorporating rich pre-Hispanic Aztec traditions and rituals," said Wainwright. "This group was formed as a project of harmonious coexistence striving to promote values of tolerance, responsibility, respect, love and community through dance. We have Tumbaga, which is also a dance company from New York City showcasing artistic character of the Colombian folklore.”

Other New York City dance groups like the Colombian dance school Cali Salsa Pal Mundo, the Dominican Collectives Dance Ensemble and more will perform as well.

“We have Tecuanes, a dance group also based in New York City with dancers from Los Tecuanes de San Gabriel in Puebla, Mexico," said Wainwright. "The dance represents two tribes, the Chichimeca and the Zapoteca, working together in an attempt to capture the Tiger.”

Wainwright says the economic burden of the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the festival, cutting down its sponsorships from local businesses after a grueling year.

“The generosity among the community has been incredible, but we are still in need in donations," she told WAMC. "And you know, we want to maintain the excellence of the festival. So if there are listeners out there who are able to donate to the Festival Latino, we really appreciate any donations that we can get. And if there are people who are interested in volunteering for the Festival Latino, either the day of or in the days leading up, we're also definitely open to having volunteers if there are people there who are interested in being more involved.”

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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