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Two festivals offer a chance to know more about local Latinos

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 7, 2012 - The Latino population in St. Louis is a small one, at least from a numbers perspective.

As of 2010, the metro as a whole had a Latino population of about 2.6 percent, according to a report by the East West Gateway Council of Governments, which uses Census data. That’s up from .3 in 1990.

Small, yes, but you can experience it on a much larger scale beginning this weekend and throughout Hispanic Heritage Month, which officially begins Sept. 15.

Sure, you can sample margaritas and tacos and hear some salsa, but with the Greater St. Louis Hispanic Festival, the Latino Art Festival and the Latino Legacy Project, opportunities for deeper engagement and cultural discovery abound.

See the work of local Latino artists, watch a parade of Hispanic nations (led by Fredbird) and sample foods from Panama, Bolivia, Argentina and the Dominican Republic. At the Hispanic Fest, there will also be less-well-known Mexican dishes, such as pozole, says Haniny Hillberg, president of the Hispanic Festival, “so people can see that Mexican food is not only tacos and tamales.”

It's a small world (with lots of Latino countries)

This year marks the Greater St. Louis Hispanic Festival’s 17th year, and in that time, it has grown tremendously, says Hillberg, who is originally from Bolivia.

This weekend, that growth has a new home downtown at Kiener Plaza, where the festival takes place Friday, Sept. 7, through Sunday, Sept. 9.

“This year is an excellent opportunity to show our culture to the community at large,” Hillberg says.

That community includes people heading to and from the three days of Cardinals games, says board member Elisa Bender, who is Hillberg’s daughter.

“That could attract a lot of the type of people we’re trying to attract to a family event,” she says.

Food from many Latino countries, as well as music, dance and people will be there, with a parade of Hispanic nations at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, live music throughout the weekend, performances including folkloric art and a children’s corner.

Sunday, Sept. 9, brings a talent show and a dance competition, as well as more music, food and crafts for sale.

The event is free, and offers people the opportunity to see the spectrum of diversity among Latino countries, Hillberg thinks, from food to music to dialects.

Bender agrees.

“A lot of people think, when they think Hispanic, Mexican,” she says. “And I’ll bet that 90 percent of people here are Mexican, but there’s a lot of other Hispanic countries represented.”

Local art

While the Latino population is still relatively small, there’s much to be explored.

And his year’s sixth annual Latino Art Festival showcases that, with art from area Latino residents.

This year, for the first time, the art festival takes place at the St. Louis Regional Arts Commission, with a public opening reception for Metro Art Exchange - Belas Artes at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7.

“The intention is to showcase the caliber and the contributions that these artists are giving to our region, and to show to our residents that we have a large number of Latino artists,” says Cileia Miranda-Yuen, executive director of Belas-Artes.

The exhibit will be displayed until Oct. 14.

On Sept. 15, marking the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, the Latino Legacy Project returns to the Missouri History Museum.

At 7 p.m. that night, Miranda-Yuen will present a keynote speech entitled “Making sense of the Census — What happens to Hispanics may affect the nation.”

Miranda-Yuen, originally from Brazil, plans to connect the dots, she says, between the nation’s aging white population, the burgeoning Latino population and what that will mean for the workforce and the economy.

At 8 p.m. that night, there will be a Latin dance performance.

Finally, on Sunday, Oct. 14, Belas-Artes and the Missouri History Museum mark end of Hispanic Heritage month with “Mi Pueblo”from 1 to 4 p.m. The event includes a number of activities, with country tables, craft demonstrations, a dance workshop and performance and an altar for Dia de Los Muertos., or the Day of the Dead.

All events are free.

What's in a name?

Hispanic? Latino? Do they mean the same thing? Which one is preferred?

First, let's break down what they really mean. According to the Associated Press, Hispanic means "A person from — or whose ancestors were from — a Spanish-speaking land or culture."

Latino, the AP says, means "Often the preferred term for a person from — or whose ancestors were from — a Spanish-speaking land or culture or from Latin America."

That still seems vague, but the AP recommends getting specific when speaking to someone and referring to them by their country of origin.

An April 4 study from the Pew Hispanic Center found that neither label completely fits, with 69 percent of survey respondents saying they see the large population in the U.S. as many different cultures and not just one.

Some other findings:

  • More than half of respondents didn't have a preference over Latino or Hispanic, but those who did preferred Hispanic by a two-to-one margin.
  • One in five used the term "American" to describe their identity.

Like Pew, the St. Louis Beacon uses Hispanic and Latino interchangeably, but we try, as much as possible, to be specific about a person's country of birth.