Musica, comida y baile!

Hispanic Heritage Festival: muy caliente!

by Timothy Anderl

Each year, Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month and the contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America from Sept. 15 – Oct. 15.  Though the observation began in 1968 under President Lyndon Johnson, the 30-day period was enacted into law on Aug. 17, 1988.

The significance of the time period is that Sept. 15 is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.  In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on Sept. 16 and 18, respectively.  If that isn’t a reason to party, I don’t know what is.

For the last 12 years, the Puerto Rican American Caribbean Organization (PACO) has delivered the perfect convergence of music, food, dance and atmosphere to celebrate the essence of Hispanic-Latino culture in Miami Valley communities in the form of Dayton’s Hispanic Heritage Festival.  The festival takes place at RiverScape in Downtown Dayton on Sept. 22 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

“Five Rivers Metroparks is our largest sponsor and has always been tremendously supportive of this event,” PACO president Joselito Gracia said.

According to Gracia, festivalgoers can expect a family-friendly event that includes children’s activities, a dancing contest, Zumba and even a jalapeno-eating contest for those with fire-resistant taste buds.

“Because of the generosity of our sponsors, we’re able to offer the event for free to the general public,” Gracia said.

“I speak to folks in the community on a daily basis, and when I mention the festival I always get positive feedback,” Gracia said.  “This year we aren’t competing with any other festival this weekend, so people who’ve had other commitments or festivals to attend that weekend in the past will have the opportunity to turn out this year, which we’re really excited about.”

Headlining this year’s entertainment are the Sammy DeLeon Orchestra and Grupo Fuego. Named best Salsa and Latin Jazz band by the Scene Magazine and Toledo Bravo Magazine, Sammy DeLeon Orchestra has performed for audiences in New York, Chicago, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, as well as locally. The band even had the opportunity to open for Tito Puente, who wore the moniker, “the Sultan of salsa.” Grupo Fuego, a hot Latin salsa band who has performed at the event before, will play the sounds of the Caribbean, expressing culture and soul through their music. They have performed in major cities from New York to Atlanta and Charleston, to Cleveland and other cities throughout Ohio.

With additional music from DJ Danny D, El Jibarito, Rondalla de Puerto Rico and Nuevo Imperio Band, the festival promises flavors from Panama, Brazil, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, among others.  The Orgullo Mexicano and Grupo Caribe dance groups will also perform.  The popular sounds and movements of salsa (which combines rhythms from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin regions), meringue (a dance form from the Dominican Republic), cumbia, Colombian folk dance and music and bachata (romantic pan-Latin American guitar music played by a trio or quartet) will be present in the day’s performances.

“There will be great music, great food, a bunch of vendors selling food and wares from Columbia, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico … I could go on and on,” Gracia said.  “Many of the vendors are local.  We reach out to the local Latin community and they get really excited about it.  We’ll also have vendors from Columbus, Chicago and Indiana’s Latin communities.

“I am kind of biased, so I’m looking forward to enjoying some Puerto Rican alcapurrias,” Gracia said. Alcapurrias are Puerto Rican stuffed fritters.  These fritters are usually made with a batter of taro (yautía) and green bananas (guineos verdes), and are stuffed with either a meat (pino) filling or with crab, shrimp or lobster. They are typically sold by vendors on the beach in Puerto Rico.

When they aren’t busy planning this event, PACO is busy with other endeavors.  PACO is a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of the Hispanic/Latino community. Its goals are to promote awareness and educate Dayton and its surrounding communities about the culture and history of the Hispanic/Latino community.  Each year, the organization provides community outreach in the form of donations of food and presents to families in need at Thanksgiving and King’s Day (which is similar to Christmas).

“Last year we fed almost 90 families, which we are very proud of,” Gracia said.  “And during our celebration of King’s Day we gave out over 500 gifts.”

PACO also offers micro-loans to small businesses in the community and scholarships to college for deserving high school students as well.

The Dayton Hispanic Heritage Festival will take place on Sept. 22 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m at MetroParks RiverScape, 111 E. Monument Ave. Admission is free. For more Information, visit or call (937) 760-7226.

Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Anderl at

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