Festival prepares to dish up diversity for the community in Uptown Park
Published: Friday, September 20, 2013
Updated: Friday, September 20, 2013 01:09
Oxford’s Uptown Park will transform into a lively cultural celebration for the 11th annual Latin American & Caribbean UniDiversity Festival.
The festival, which runs from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. today, is free to the public. Anyone in the community can stop by and grab some authentic Latin food, watch live music and dance performances and shop local vendors’ booths.
The festival kicks off National Hispanic Heritage month, which runs from mid-September to mid-October.
Co-directing the festival is Juanita Tate, director of divisional initiatives at Miami University.
Tate said the festival began because of the huge influx of Latinos in Butler county years ago.
“We wanted to teach people about the Latino heritage, and help them understand,” Tate said. “It’s a good way to learn about and experience another culture.”
Tate has been with the festival all 11 years, working closely with fellow director Jacqueline Rioja Velarde and two teachers from the Talawanda School District, Suzette Shahin and Nadja Hoffmann.
Tate said Miami staff and students also help with the planning, which can begin as early as spring break.
Further tying Talawanda schools to the festival, this year Superintendent Kelly Spivey will give the festival address. Spivey said that while she has been attending the festival for years, this is her first time having an active role participating in the program.
In her address, she plans to discuss the importance of diversity in the schools, university and community.
It is tradition for one of the musical guests to perform at Talawanda Middle School and High School in days prior to the festival. This sneak-peek gets people excited for the festival, while giving those who are unable to make it a glimpse of Latin culture, Tate said.
“Talawanda really values diversity,” Spivey said. “We want to create a welcoming environment for everyone.”
An inclusive environment is important, as Talawanda School District serves students with about twenty different primary languages. Often times, when professors of other languages or cultures come to teach at Miami, their children attend Talawanda schools, creating a pool of diversity.
“We have students who fall into five categories: Asian, Hispanic, multiracial, black or white,” Spivey said. “About 9 percent of those students fall into a category other than white, and 2 percent are Hispanic.”
Tate said the event has grown bigger each year it is put on.
“We always try to add something new,” Tate said, explaining that could mean different dancers, more bands or new vendors.
A local group, the Oxford Gourd and Drum Ensemble (OGADE), will be performing for the first time at this year’s event.
Other exciting features include informational booths from Miami organizations and an appearance from Amazon John, who arrives at the festival with many animals, including alpacas, llamas, spiders and boa constrictors.
Occupying one of the booths will be Sigma Lambda Beta and Sigma Lambda Gamma, Miami’s international fraternity and sorority.
President of Sigma Lambda Beta, Miami senior Wally Maldonado, said he and senior Marisol Torres, president of Sigma Lambda Gamma, will be MC’s for the event. The organization will also have a table where they will sell Mexican Coca-Cola and handmade bracelets, according to Maldonado.
Because Sigma Lambda Beta just returned to Miami’s campus last spring, this is its first year getting involved with the festival. However, Maldonado said he has attended in the past and especially enjoyed the music and food.
“There was a long line for the food last year, and it’s going to be from the same vendors this year,” Maldonado said. “It is nice seeing everybody from different backgrounds come together.”
Miami celebrates the UniDiversity program throughout the entire fall semester. Other events include the study abroad fair, a quinoa-tasting and cooking competition, a talk about science fiction literature in Latin America and a film festival.
People can stop by the Center for American and World Cultures in MacMillan Hall on Miami’s campus to pick up a pamphlet detailing the events, or to learn more about other countries and cultures.