Hispanic Heritage Fest to celebrate 15 years

Organizers expand offerings, attractions.

​In Latin American culture, girls mark their 15th birthday with an elaborate celebration called a Quinceanera. PACO, the Dayton-based Puerto Rican, American and Caribbean Organization, is using that tradition as the theme for its 15th annual Hispanic Heritage Festival at RiverScape MetroPark in Dayton on Saturday.

To mark the occasion, the nonprofit group has added new features and enhanced existing offerings to attract a broader slice of the community.

“A Quinceanera is a big birthday party, but at the same time it’s like a wedding,” said Hernan Garcia, who started his two-year term as PACO president in January. “Since this our Quinceanera year, we’ll have a fashion show with models showing Quinceanera dresses at the beginning of the festival. That should be pretty good.”

Other new additions include a cruise-in and a festival-opening parade, which starts at Second and Main streets and ends at RiverScape.

“We try to make it better every year,” Garcia said. “Everybody has different interests, so we want to open it up a little bit more. We want to get more people interested to come and see what we have so we can keep growing. We’re trying to learn every year and see what we can do better for upcoming years.”

The diverse musical lineup will showcase the salsa of Papo Ruiz y Dulzura de la Salsa and the merengue of Grupo K-non, both from Cleveland, and Dayton-based mariachi singer Karen Labra. Festival favorite DJ Danny Diaz will fill in the gaps with plenty of high-energy Latin music.

Food is always a big part of the Hispanic Heritage Festival, and this year is no exception.

“We try to have most countries represented with the food,” Garcia said. “We don’t wait for food vendors to submit applications, we actually reached out to restaurants and vendors we know can present something different for the community. Even the same dish can taste completely different because of the way they season it. It’s amazing, and we want people to see that.”

The children’s area has also been expanded.

“It was a small area before, but we’ve enhanced it so it’ll have more of a carnival feel,” Garcia said. “We’re trying to make it a little more for the whole family. We’re looking forward to seeing how it works.

“I think it’ll be great overall for the festival and give people a reason to stay longer,” he said. “Rather than focus on one small group, we’re trying to expand. We want to make the festival bigger and better.”

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Contact this contributing writer at donaldthrasher8@aol.com.