Festival brings taste of Latin America to Pitt

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Festival brings taste of Latin America to Pitt

Food and music were just two elements of the Latin American and Caribbean festival.  Jordan Mondell | Staff Photographer

Food and music were just two elements of the Latin American and Caribbean festival. Jordan Mondell | Staff Photographer

Food and music were just two elements of the Latin American and Caribbean festival. Jordan Mondell | Staff Photographer

Food and music were just two elements of the Latin American and Caribbean festival. Jordan Mondell | Staff Photographer

By Albert Giovanazzi / Staff Writer

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Spanish words and the scent of empanadas drifted through Posvar Hall this weekend, as the Latin American and Caribbean Festival replaced lectures with Puerto Rican musicians and tango dancers.

Pitt’s Center for Latin American Studies hosted the 36th annual Latin American and Caribbean Festival on Saturday from noon to 10 p.m., attracting more than two thousand community members — a slight increase from last year, according to Diana Osma, the assistant academic affairs and outreach coordinator for CLAS.

A celebration of Latin American culture, the festival featured performances from 18 groups, including Guatemalan dance performers Cooperativa de Artistas de Guatemala and Pitt’s tango dance team, the Panther Tango Club. 

Karen Goldman, the assistant director for external relations, development and assessment for CLAS, said attracting such a large crowd for this year’s festival was easy because of Pittsburgh’s increasing Latin American population.

“These communities enrich our city and our region enormously, and that itself is a reason to celebrate,” Goldman said.

Fifty-nine booths selling traditional Latin American food, such as Brazilian barbecue, Mexican drinks and Cuban sandwiches, small businesses and family vendors  — some from as far away as Ohio — added another level of authenticity to the annual event, said Osma. To raise money for Cafe, a foundation that works to support education for children in Honduras, Pitt’s Spanish club sold coffee at the festival, as well.

Naiara Freitas, the owner of Naiara’s Cakes and More in Pittsburgh and a vendor at the festival for the past four years, said the celebration links the community together year after year.

“People come one year and then they come back again and they know you and they see you growing. It feels good to see that people are happy because you are growing,” Freitas said.

Ranbir Gill, senior political science major who attended the event, said the festival is an accessible way for people to learn about a different culture.

“I am surprised how big [the festival] is. It’s really representative of the different Latin American countries,” Gill said. “It’s neat to be able to see food from the different regions, especially for people that don’t know that much about Latin America.”

For Osma, the festival turnout means Pitt’s campus could become more diverse.

“It’s important that we have a global environment at the University,” Osma said. “Many of the families here have children who are prospective Pitt students and may apply to the University.”

With the help of other CLAS members, Osma spent four months organizinge the festival, which was funded by the Latin American Cultural Union and Goya Foods, along with other smaller contributors.

The festival spotlights Latin American culture — colorful dance, delicious food, upbeat music — as well as the lack of visibility Pittsburgh’s Latino population faces.

Emma Freedman, a senior urban studies major who attended the event, said Pittsburgh’s small immigrant population has to work hard to achieve recognition because of its size and lack of visibility.

“[The festival] is important in terms of visibility for the Latin American community as well as the other minorities, which don’t have large platforms of representation,” Freedman said. “They all make Pittsburgh unique as it grows.”

Scott Morgenstern, the director of CLAS, said the festival lets attendees immerse themselves in a new environment, which helps them understand and appreciate a culture besides their own.

“Overall, we believe that participating in these types of events … [generate] understanding,” Morgenstern said in an email. “Understanding, in turn, improves relationships and reduces our fears about ‘different’ peoples.”

Marissa Ferrighetto, a senior economics major and intern for CLAS, said the festival celebrates cultural diversity and brings the community together.

“I love the atmosphere of the festival. People of all ages come with their friends and family,” Ferrighetto said. “Everyone is eating good food and having a good time. It’s a nice environment.”

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