What did I do this weekend? I went back home.
No, I didn’t fly back to the Dominican Republic, but definitely got close! I spent the weekend at LatinoFest in Patterson park, the largest Latino festival in the region, on its 38th year, creating a forum where Latinos can enjoy their culture, music and food. But this being Baltimore, it was much much more.
Loud music booming across the park, not just from one stage but from TWO, like dueling pianos! Delicious food from all over the western hemisphere, stuff you can’t pronounce, but guaranteed to blow-up the carbs tally and make your mouth sing.
Allow me to be your travel guide through the cultural and culinary journey and share the highlights:
Of course, the world revolves around food! And this was cornucopia of deliciousness! No wonder Zagat named Baltimore as one of the 30 most exciting food cities in 2017. We ate Elotes, Mexican street corn is roasted over an open grill & coated with salt, chile powder, butter, cotija, lime juice, & mayonnaise. Doesn’t sound appetizing, but wow. That’s it. Wow.
Then, platters of rice and beans, puposas revueltas (grilled flour cakes stuffed with cheese and beans), fried plantains, yucca fries and chicharron de cerdo. And the pièce de résistance was the Piñarón, a hallowed-out pineapple stuffed with mango, cucumber, watermelon with lime juice and chile, accompanied with a tamarind stick. Yes. I had two of those!
Flamenco, Bachata, Merengue, Salsa and folkloric dancers. I thoroughly enjoyed the Tecuani Dancers, who performed the “Jaguar Dance,” inspired by an old Mexican traditional street dance performance in which a jaguar will be chased and captured. It is performed by various characters with distinct roles; so dramatic and engaging including youngsters and women, dressed in these flashy costumes.
My dear friend, Niss Albaig and the folks of Salsa Now conducted a huge salsa dance lesson and got the crowd engaged (common misconception, not all Latinos know how to dance every dance!) He set it up as rotating speed-dating dance line, where people rotated and were pared up to dance with perfect strangers, as he called out instructions. Let me play this out for you: Old folks dancing with young, African-American dancing with Latino, Asian-American dancing with white and every other combination you can imagine. All laughing, smiling, thoroughly enjoying the boundless joy of dancing.
Arte Flamenco, created by Natalia Monteleon, is this beautifully authentic dance troupe that pays tribute to the rich culture and history of Flamenco. They have performed at the Kennedy Center, Artscape, Mexican Cultural Institute and of course, at LatinoFest annually. They were outstanding! And then I discovered that the some of the dancers were adult students of Natalia, that had fallen in love with the dance and had joined the troupe. These weren’t Spaniards, or Hispanics with roots in the culture, but every-day folks, African Americans and Caucasians as well as Latinos. Beautiful performance and proof that art does cross all boundaries.
This leads me to the vibe. LatinoFest is attended and enjoyed by all types of people. It is not just a Latino event, but the neighbors around Patterson Park and Baltimore come out in droves and enjoy the cultural awesomeness of the weekend. There’s a welcoming vibe, that we all belong, that we are all friends. A market feel that draws festival revelers to the booths and the vendors to sample their wares. Smiles abound, as the music fills the air.
We partnered with VisitBaltimore, the tourism agency that draws traffic to Baltimore, to #ShareTheLove and show the world that this is the Baltimore we are missing. We created an activity with flags surrounding Baltimore and we asked folks to connect their flag while sharing what had brought them here- School, work, kids, and more. All with smiles, pride and a willingness to learn what makes Baltimore one of the 52 cities to visit in 2018, like the NY Times decreed.
Yeah. All were welcomed with smiles and open arms.
Amigos- you have a personal invitation to join me next year and sample the cultural awesomeness that is LatinoFest.