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UniDiversity festival honors Latino culture

By Megan Bowers, The Miami Student

The Latin American and Caribbean UniDiversity Festival, taking place tonight in Uptown Park, is the climax of the celebration of National Hispanic Month in Oxford.

"The festival creates awareness about Hispanic and Latino culture," said Jacqueline Rioja Velarde, co-director of the planning committee. "It gives us a chance to recognize their contributions in our country and in the world."

For 13 years, the festival has been highlighting many of the major aspects of the Hispanic culture, including food, music and animals.

One of the food vendors, Taqueria Mercado, has been in attendance since the first year and is consistently a crowd favorite. The owners are a local family whose son is a recent graduate of Miami University.

"The entire event is family-focused," said Rioja Velarde. "We try to work off of the energy from everyone involved."

One of the major ways they keep the event family-focused is through the animal shows and traditional Hispanic games. Amazon John and Silly Safari, a live animal show troupe, performs every year, and the alpaca and llama petting zoo always draws people young and old.

As far as games go, the planning committee has set out to recreate some traditional games from Latin America suitable for children.

This year they are also adding another level to the family-oriented aspect by having a local children's author come in. Cintia Roma-Garbelotto, author of Estas son Colores, will be hosting three readings with the children in both Spanish and English, as well as offering free downloads of her book for students.

In addition, the festival will feature traditional music from both Latin America and the Caribbean.

"I love the music," said Juanita Tate, other co-director of the festival. "The bands always play such wonderful songs and the dancers are unbelievable."

Tate has been a co-director since the first year and said they try to bring in new attractions to keep it special for the community members who attend every year.

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One way they do this is by inviting different music groups to come each year. Orquesta Kandela, a well-known Salsa and Latin band and Asi Es Colombia, a folklore dance troupe, are among those performing this year.

The festival highlights many different cultures, with the addition of Panama this year. The festival will be hosting Que Lindo Es Panama!, a dance troupe from Panama, in addition to serving some traditional food from the country.

The event also serves an educational purpose through a live show for the kids, voter registration for adults and an information fair for people of all ages.

The informational fair is a place for Latin American affiliated organizations from both Miami and the Oxford community to fundraise for the upcoming year and share information about the services they offer and their connection to the Latin American community. This year, there will be over 20 organizations, including the Oxford League of Women, Project Dragonfly, Best Buddies and the Association of Latin and American Students (ALAS).

"We will be selling traditional Mexican Coke and Jarritos along with the international fraternity, Sigma Lambda Beta," said Bonnie Walker, ALAS president. "I really am just looking forward to being up there and meeting new people who have similar interests to me, while raising money for the club and promoting the organization a bit."

Rioja Velarde and Tate don't want anyone to miss out on the festival and have created an additional outreach program that brings performers to each of the schools in the Talawanda district.

"This is a part of homecoming weekend, so I am excited to see all the graduates bringing back their energy and support to the festival," said Rioja Velarde. "I just can't wait to welcome everyone."

The Latin American and Caribbean UniDiversity Festival will take place from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. tonight in Uptown Park.