VOICES: Immerse yourself in culture at the Hispanic Heritage Festival today

Why is learning about other cultures important?

For starters, it fosters understanding which strengthens our community. Learning about other cultures helps us understand different perspectives and it helps dispel negative stereotypes and personal biases about different groups.

Undoubtedly, we may find we are more similar than we might think. And in the polarized and divided climate we are currently living, it would serve us well to learn about the cultures of our neighbors.

In the 32 years I have lived in Dayton, I have seen the diversity of the population increase greatly. One of the things I really enjoy is learning about other cultures and experiencing those cultures at the numerous festivals that we have in the Dayton area. Just this past weekend I enjoyed the food, music and dance of Greece at the Greek Festival then turned around and traveled to Italy to enjoy their food and music. Of course, I didn’t actually go to Italy, but the Italian Fall Fest brought a little of Italy to Dayton.

Hispanic Heritage Month started as Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968 under President Lyndon Johnson. In 1988, it was expanded to a month by President Ronald Reagan starting Sept. 15 and ending Oct. 15. Why Sept. 15? Because it 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 September 16 and September 18, respectively. Lastly, Columbus Day or Día de la Raza, is October 12, which falls within this 30-day period.

As we enter Hispanic Heritage Month, I encourage you to immerse yourself in Hispanic culture to learn more about the beauty and diversity our culture has to offer. Try a new Latino dish, listen to our local Spanish language Radio 97.7 (did you know we had one?), or learn some Latin dance moves at one of the area Latin Nights.

Better yet, immerse yourself in Hispanic Culture at the Hispanic Heritage Festival happening today at RiverScape MetroPark.

The Puerto Rican American and Caribbean Organization (PACO) was started in 1991 by a group of Puerto Ricans primarily working at Wright-Patt Air Force Base. Throughout the last 30 years, PACO has become an organization representing all Hispanic/Latino countries and includes members from Puerto Rico, the USA, Mexico, Panama, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Colombia, and Haiti just to name a few. PACO held the first Hispanic Heritage Festival in 2001 to celebrate Hispanic Heritage as well as to educate the community about our culture through displays of our food, crafts, music and dance.

PACO is a 501c3 non-profit organization and is an all-volunteer organization. They give back to the community from the proceeds of the festival. Some of their charitable giving includes scholarships, food baskets and toys for children for 3 Kings Day. Take some time this Saturday, Sept. 17 to support a local non-profit as well as learn more about and celebrate the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America at the Dayton Hispanic Heritage Festival.

Karla Knox is originally from Panama but has lived in Dayton for 32 years. She is the President of the PACO organization and is an enthusiastic supporter of the local Hispanic/Latino community.

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