Dozens of Long Islanders braved the threat of rain Saturday afternoon to attend the annual Latin Festival at Eisenhower Park.
Festivalgoers enjoyed traditional food, music, dances and performances that celebrated and represented the more than 20 Latin American cultures found on Long Island, festival organizers said.
“It means a lot,” said organizer Luis Vazquez, president of the Long Island Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “It means to maintain the culture in our community.”
The free festival has been a Westbury tradition for more than 20 years, Vazquez said, but this year was the first time the Latin Festival Committee planned the event. Before, it was part of the Nassau County's International Nights series at Eisenhower Park, he said.
In past years, the festival has attracted thousands, but this year attendance dropped sharply, partly due to the forecast for heavy rain, Vazquez said.
“I always come out when they have Latin Night here,” Addie Blanco-Harvey, 44, of Unionville said. “It’s very energetic, happy. We get to dance, eat.”
Local Latin American artists and acts paraded onto the Harry Chapin Lakeside Theater, next to the Eisenhower Park Pond. Bachata, cumbia, reggaeton and other types of music blasted from the speakers as people sang along to their favorite songs.
“I am here because I love Latin music so I wanted to check it out,” said Jessica Senra, 29, of Queens.
The show started around 7:30 p.m. as Nassau County officials recognized several local Latinos for their dedication in advocating for the community. A group of Salvadoran folkloric dancers opened, followed by a local salsa band.
While some people watched the performers, others walked around the multiple tents with vendors lining the field. The aroma of traditional Latin American dishes such as carne asada and pupusas, a traditional Salvadoran tortilla filled with cheese, beans or pork skin, wafted in the air.
“The food I’m preparing is meat with a Mexican touch,” said Roberto Herrera, owner of local restaurant Cinco de Mayo who had a stand at the festival. “With the rain, I didn’t want to prepare too much because what for? You don’t know.”
State Sen. Elaine Phillips (R-Flower Hill) also attended the event. “We’re out here celebrating the Latino culture,” she said.
She said that events like these helped highlight Nassau County's diverse population, as well as the resources available to members of the community.
Some groups providing those resources had set up tents in the field, defying the rain. Local immigration advocacy groups Immigration Legal Services of Long Island and Impacto Law had a joint tent.
“It’s a great honor to be here because of the fact that it helps such amazing people with the Latino community,” said Saisha Maldonado, immigration service's executive director. “Just to give them like at least a little advice to help them.”
The festival crowd grew as the night progressed.
“Here we are, ladies and gentlemen,” Vazquez said in Spanish to the audience. “We’re Hispanics. Whether we’re two, three or five, the party continues.”