11th Annual Hispanic Heritage Festival

Put a little salsa in your step as you head out to this downtown Dayton festival

By Tim Walker

Dancers at the Hispanic Festival, 2010

Dancers at the Hispanic Festival, 2010

Holy cow – jalapenos are hot, hot, hot! Or should I have used the word “picante”?

If there’s one thing the 11th Annual Hispanic Heritage Festival is offering that appeals to me, it’s the food; and I do love spicy food, mind you. Give me a bowl of five-alarm chili (no beans and hold the cilantro), please. Serve me up a big steaming plate of nachos smothered in pepper jack cheese and I’m a happy boy. Jerk rubs for everyone, and bring on those gorgeous Scotch Bonnets, because mild food just doesn’t cut it with me, folks  – I want to feel that wonderful burn all the way down, kicking in all the endorphins as it goes. My dream home is located somewhere near Scoville and capsaicin is my middle name.

But a jalapeno-eating contest? Really?

“All I can say about that is, those are some brave people,” said Karen Hunt, marketing and public relations director for PACO, the Puerto Rican and Caribbean Organization and organizers of the Hispanic Heritage Festival. “I truly enjoy jalapenos. Now, will I eat a certain amount in an allotted time? That’s a difficult question for me. I don’t know if I’m going to put 10 jalapeno peppers in my mouth and chew them at once! But there are people who get out there and they will. Last year I saw one gentleman who ate them one at a time, but he was going very fast at it. It’s just amazing watching so many people who love jalapeno peppers… Last year we even had a pregnant woman competing in the contest!”

I’m betting she gave birth to a child blessed with a love of fiery foods.

I consider the contest. Five minutes on the clock and a big pile of jalapenos in front of me. As much as I love a good spicy fajita, my stomach is churning just thinking about it.

“We do provide water,” Karen added, helpfully. “It’s just an amazing contest.”

That’s easy for her to say, not being one of the misguided souls who has chosen to enter.

The 11th Annual Hispanic Heritage Festival, which takes place at RiverScape Metropark in downtown Dayton Saturday, September 10 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., has much more to offer than just the chance to watch pepper lovers abusing their stomachs, of course. This year’s festival features two musical headliners, Sammy DeLeon and Grupo Fuego.
“They are going to bring hot and sexy Latin music to the city,” said PACO President Julio Gonzalez. “This year [the festival] is going to be even better, because of the new RiverScape Pavilion, which will make our show spectacular.”

The groups are made up of sultry vocals, sensational horn sections, rhythmic Latin percussions, smooth piano and thumping bass players, and have performed at festivals around the country including New York City, Miami, Columbus and at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

“Their hot music has diverse rhythms from the Caribbean flavors of Salsa, Merengue, Bachata and Bolero and is guaranteed to keep the audience on their feet and dancing,” continued Gonzalez.

The Sammy DeLeon Orchestra was named Best Salsa and Latin Jazz Band by both The Scene magazine and Toledo Bravo magazine.

In addition to these acts, the festival will also feature performances by Raices Dancers, Mexigo Grupo Imperio, Rondalla del Puerto Rico and Rigodon Con Son. The Hispanic Heritage Festival will also feature a children’s area and plenty of food vendors with a wide variety of items for sale.

The jalapeno contest is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m., and I do plan to participate. If you’re a loyal Dayton City Paper reader, or if you just want to see a local writer torture his gastrointestinal tract, feel free to stop by and say hello afterwards.

I’ll be the one who didn’t win.


The Puerto Rican and Caribbean Organization is a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of the Hispanic/Latino community. Its goals are to promote awareness, and educate Dayton and the surrounding communities about its culture and history.

The 11th Annual Hispanic Heritage Festival is presented by PACO and Five Rivers MetroParks. Admission is free. Sponsors include Kroger, MetLife, Vectren and Caresource, among others. For more information, visit www.metroparks.org/hispanicfest or call (937) 760-7226.

Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Tim Walker
Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com

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