Sounds south of the border: From Brazilian to mariachi bands, Fiesta Latina to be a party groove Saturday

By Brian Blair 9/30/21

Amid the mariachi and Brazilian bands at the free Fiesta Latina Expo series event Saturday along Fourth Street in downtown Columbus, one can be more than a passive listener.

In fact, courtesy of exercise instructor Yisset Penaloza, people can move and groove toward fitness.

That’s part of a twist called a Zumbathon at 3:30 p.m. under Penaloza’s energy and guidance. Zumba is a high-energy, beat-heavy, calorie-burning exercise program that, fittingly for Saturday’s gathering, began in Colombia.

Whitney Amuchastegui, executive director of the nonprofit Su Casa Columbus, one of the festival organizers, humorously doubts she’ll be a part of that hyperactivity as she helps oversee the event — the last of four arranged as a substitute to the normal, one large Ethnic Expo international festival amid the pandemic.

“I have two left feet,” she said with a laugh.

But such an offering was popular last year as a streaming event to support the Latino community.

“And literally everyone is welcome to participate,” said Luz Elena Michel, Latino education and outreach program manager with the Community Education Coalition and one of the festival’s coordinators.

Attendees will note that the event that normally stretches just a few hours has been expanded to 10 hours from noon to 10 p.m. to better allow people to spread out the crowd for social distancing and safety amid the rising Delta variant of COVID-19. The Columbus Area Visitors Center has worked alongside other planners to coordinate the festival that includes ample Latino food.

“We don’t have any real idea of how many people to expect,” Michel said, noting that the last in-person festival attracted an estimated 4,000 people in 2019. “All of this is so hard to even guess right now.”

Organizers say that Fiesta Latina celebrates the culture of Latin America, showcasing Latino musicians, dancers, artisans, and chefs from around the region. The event this year focuses on Brazil and Mexico.

Fiesta Latina is organized by TuFuturo, an initiative of Community Education Coalition and Su Casa Columbus. The mission of TuFuturo is to support the Latino community and to improve Latino lives through education.

Understandably, Ethnic Expo and Fiesta Latina are about education linking to valuing diversity and more, according to Michel and Amuchastegui.

“I think it is important to remind people that Ethnic Expo and these other events are really critical to making all the different cultures feel like they are at home in Columbus and truly appreciated,” Amuchastegui said. “And that is part of what we are working to achieve by hosting events such as Fiesta Latina.

“We want to celebrate the Hispanic heritage while also helping to educate the public. So I think it’s fabulous, and a very positive thing to add to the overall community.”

Her comments dovetail nicely with the thoughts of Expo’s late founder Barbara Stewart, who envisioned a fun, nonthreatening way to build bridges between longtime local residents and an influx of international residents being recruited to Columbus by Cummins Inc. and other global firms years ago.

Amuchastegui lauded the city administrators for supporting the new series and the detailed work of the local visitors center.

“We have been able to do so much more with their expertise and input,” she said.

In a very visible show of support, Mayor Jim Lienhoop will be on hand at 6 p.m. Saturday when the Mexican consulate and Brazilian consulate, both from Indianapolis, visit and exchange remarks and well wishes.

“I want to remind people that this event is literally for everybody,” Michel said. “That’s Latino, non-Latino, everyone. We want to make sure that people have fun.”

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