Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

First Latin Fest celebrates culture and dreams big

Organizers hope it clicks, leads to centre

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Fabiola Marabotto wore a big smile as she uttered those words at the 2013 Latin Fest Winnipeg at The Forks Saturday afternoon. The inaugural celebration of Latin culture in the popular urban green space may not have muscled its way onto the city's summer festival calendar yet -- first-time festivals have to prove themselves worthy of attention in this town -- but the fact the small, alcohol-free event was taking place was enough for Marabotto.

"Latin Fest Winnipeg is just the first step," she said, believing in the community's ability to find traction with this event. "That we're having this, that it's actually happening, is a really important step for us in achieving our goal."

That goal is to rally the community to help raise funds to build a Latin-Canadian Cultural Centre in Manitoba, the first of its kind in the province. Marabotto, a member of the organizing committee, moved to Winnipeg from Mexico City 13 years ago. She dubs the future cultural centre "a place for us to share our culture and the things which connect us all." And you can tell she really means it.

Carlos Barrios is from Venezuela. He moved to Winnipeg in 1989 and spends most of his time basking in the glow of being the bandleader for Tropical 99, a 10-piece Latin musical experience. Barrios is an addictive, gregarious fellow, and he shares in the goal of Latin Fest Winnipeg.

"When you move to Canada, your children eventually lose their roots," he said. "It's hard to maintain that connection with the customs, the food and the language. We want a place where we can keep the spirit alive and share it with everybody."

But it's more than just learning how to cook Mexican food or learning how to salsa or boning up on your Spanish. Marabotto dreams of a cultural centre that not only preserves the Latin way of life but also shares its experiences with everyone. If this end result seems well off on the horizon, it is.

There were no real expectations Saturday on what the crowd would be or how many would attend the day-long festival. The curious stopped in to listen and check out the handful of tents and vendors congregated at the front of the Scotiabank Stage, while those interested in the live performances started to set up chairs for the late-afternoon and evening part of the bill.

Some free advice for organizers: more Latin food vendors next year. That was a common complaint during the afternoon portion of the festivities.

Again, the festival's first year wasn't about what wasn't there; it was simply about being there. Success was measured though simple existence. You have to start somewhere.

The dream of a Latin-centric celebration has come up before, but the idea could never gain any momentum due to differing opinions and agendas in the separate regions represented. Think about it for a second: There are approximately 40 different countries in the Latin Union worldwide, so finding common ground through small pockets of representation in Manitoba was often an exercise in frustration -- to the point where all interested stakeholders would just throw up their hands and walk away in the years leading up to this event.

"By DNA, we're supposed to be divided, right?" Barrios offers. "It's countries and borders -- that's it. It's come together now because while that DNA that divides us is something we cannot change, it's our culture that unites us.

"Politics, religion, sport -- culture is bigger than those. It's not about Latin America or the Latin countries around the world. It's about us as people and the culture that connects us."

Festival organizers say there are approximately 7,000 active members of the Latin community in Winnipeg and another 10,000 located across the province. The numbers are continuing to grow, Barrios said, so it only makes sense to start a festival to help bring the community together.

"I have a lot of faith in the Latin community," he said. "This is already a success, as far as I'm concerned."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 21, 2013 A5


Updated on Tuesday, July 23, 2013 at 12:00 AM CDT: Corrects photo cutline.

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