Acceptance, not tolerance: How Latin Fest-ICT uses food and performance to bridge cultural gaps
By Stefania Lugli | Planeta Venus
Latin Fest’s founder is a North End native. She’s seen how divisive Latino and Hispanic nationalities can be with one another’s cultures and is fed up with the conflict.
Prejudice is just ignorance. That’s how Ángela Martínez perceives slights coming from one Latino nationality towards another.
She’s a proud Mexican-American and Wichita North End Native, but doesn’t hold back on voicing her disappointment when Latinos diss other Latinos for their cultural backgrounds. The divisiveness comes from a lack of familiarity, she says, and that dissonance can swell into reinforced stereotypes or attitudes of superiority.
That’s what spurred Martínez into creating Latin Fest-ICT, an annual cultural festival celebrating diversity during Hispanic Heritage Month. September 17 is its fourth run, with exhibitions, games, live performances and vendors all lined up to spark curiosity and joy in attendees within Old Town Plaza.
Planeta Venus interviewed Martínez on her personal journey leading to Latin Fest’s inception, including why she strives to represent as many cultures as she can. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell us about Latin Fest’s origin story. What inspired you to start it?
It was a way to celebrate the old neighborhood I grew up in in the North End. I always like to say we were a family of families back then. Hispanic culture was pretty much confined to the North End when I was growing up in the 60’s and 70’s. It was really tight-knit and I wanted to celebrate that as well as the changes the neighborhood had coming with new neighbors.
The community that I had known had... not died out, but moved out into the suburbs and got houses and were achieving the American Dream. There was a lot of empty buildings. Nothing was going on. Then we got a wave of new people with new thoughts and new ideas. We were still Hispanic culture, but with a different mindset. I wanted to bridge that gap and bring the new with the old and familiarize one another with each other. That old cliché, ‘we’re stronger together,’ has never been more true.
By the same token: my husband’s Puerto Rican and I’m Mexican. Those are two totally different cultures. There’s a lot of misunderstanding. Having that experience just kind of all came to a head for me and I thought, “What can I do to kind of bring (Wichitan Latinos) together and have us learn about one another?” We should band together and be a stronger voice. The African-American community has a very strong voice and strong presence. I want that for our people.
This year’s festival has a special tribute to Latinos’ impact on the American entertainment industry, with a highlight on Latinos on Broadway. Why is this your focus?
I want to be able to celebrate and educate. I thought it would be kind of cool to celebrate the contribution of Latinos to the arts: cultural arts, Broadway and the Big Screen. What kind of inspired me was the movie In The Heights from Lin Manuel Miranda. I thought it was really cool to see that kind of representation in storytelling. Their stories of immigration and their dreams… I think that’s pretty special. It shows too that we’re different but the same. In The Heights is Dominican, then there’s West Side Story that’s Puerto Rican. It shows that no matter who we are … our ancestors have the same dream to come here and achieve, just like my grandpa did. That’s one thing (Latinos of different nationalities) have in common, even though our contributions are different.
We’re more than a taco and good music. There’s a lot of heritage and traditions behind every culture. I’m hoping as time goes on we’re better able to share those things in different ways and not just your typical music and folkloric dance. That’s how I thought to educate the kind of contributions Latinos have to (American pop culture), by highlighting Broadway.
What cultures will attendees experience?
I have a group that comes from Oklahoma. They represent Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Honduras and Cuba. We’ll have a very large Puerto Rican presence. With food, we’ve got Mexico, Argentina, Peru and Guatemala. It’s growing! Before we were like Puerto Rican and Mexican with a little sprinkle of Colombian. [laughs]
We’ll have a medley of hits from Gloria Estefan’s ‘On Your Feet.’ The kids are doing their dance to Encanto. Lluvia Escalante will do a Selena performance.
We’ll be playing Lotería and Puerto Rican dominoes. We’ll also have a special presentation on Adelitas, which were women soldiers during the Mexican Revolution.
Latin Fest’s attendance increases every year. Last year you were told you had about 1,500 present, with your first festival bringing 200-300 people together. With this growth, what impact do you hope attendees walk away with?
I’m so happy with our growth. Not only do we (Latinos) need to share with one another to get a greater understanding, but at the very least develop respect for other nationalities. Because, to be honest with you, at the end of the day, when other non-Latinos look at us, we’re all Mexican. They don’t sit and think, ‘Oh, well, they’re Argentinian, Colombian, Cuban.” No. They think everybody’s Mexican. So why are we doing that to each other? Why are we being divisive with one another and why are we excluding? I think that’s just ridiculous. I’m hoping that by learning, we become more inclusive and accepting. Not tolerant, but accepting.
Latin Fest-ICT is Saturday, September 17 from 11am to 11pm in Old Town Plaza. Admission is free. For more information, visit their website at latinfestict.com. Come curious!