Category Archives: Latino

Fiesta Fridays! 2003 to 2006

NOTE;  Fiesta Fridays is a special series to highlight the many memories I have of Fiesta through the photographs I’ve taken since 2003. 

Fiesta, Alabama’s largest celebration of Hispanic culture and heritage is 15 years old this year!  I’ve been spending a lot of time going through old files and photos and reliving the early years of this festival.  Getting a festival like this started was a lot of work and yet those of us who were there at the beginning really didn’t know how big this event would become – or how long it would last!  These photos and document revealed so much history and so many people involved for all these years.  As I was reliving moment through photos, I was also recalling stories and my personal thoughts.  So as we get closer to our 15th anniversary this year, I decided to begin posting a photo each Friday with a little story – I’m calling these “Fiesta Friday” photos on Facebook and Instagram.  It occurred to me though that there is more to tell about some of these photos and the people involved and the best way to do this is on my blog.

So this post will be about the photos I’ve already posted from 2003 to 2006.  There are so many photos to choose from too!  I started taking the photos at Fiesta the first year never imagining that I would become the official “unofficial” photographer of the event.  I was using film and switched to digital a few years later but these are the photos that really stick out to me of the thousands that I’ve taken.

Fiesta 2003 – My friends Lui Fernandez and Jasmine Reyes dance next to the Main Stage while Susan Daywood, Rei Ramos and Hernan Prado watch and enjoy the music!

2003 – Fiesta’s first year…  I was at the main stage – the Coca Cola main stage and found a group of friends from the Hispanic Business Council (HBC) on the side of the stage dancing and having a great time.  It was getting close to the final acts and everyone was so happy about the success of our first ever event!  We had expected about 2,000 people to come through but when the numbers were finally counted, we had about 7,000 attendees our very first year!  Overwhelming would be an appropriate word to describe our feelings that day.  I snapped this photo of Jasmine Reyes dancing with a young man.  Behind her are Susan Daywood with the City of Birmingham and a member of the HBC, Rei Ramos with the HBC and Hernan Prado, also with the HBC.  What I didn’t realize at the time is that the young man Jasmine was dancing with would become a huge part of Fiesta.  Luis “Lui” Fernandez is a current board member and has been instrumental in creating the “heart” of Fiesta – the Cultural Village.  He took it from a few posters to a group of community members excited about portraying their respective countries and sharing this information with Fiesta guests each year.  When he is in charge of something, I never worry about how it will turn out because Lui has a special talent in creating something to remember!

Fiesta 2003 – Salsa dancers on the main stage

2004 -Fiesta’s second year – This photo was taken from the Coca Cola Main Stage and is of two dancers.  They drew quite the crowd early in the day that year.  Their dancing was on point along with the DJ playing salsa music.  I was taken by the pure joy of the dance that they shared with Fiesta guests that day.  This photo was used in many of the early marketing and advertising we used of Fiesta to potential sponsors and on our website.

Entrance to the Cultural Village created by Lui Fernandez – Fiesta 2004

2004 – Another photo from Fiesta’s second year is of the entrance to the Cultural Village.  You’ve already read how much I admire and respect Lui Fernandez’s talent and this particular year, he decided to create an actual entrance to the village!  I like to say that this was the year the Cultural Village really came to life!  It was the year that music broke out all over the village and people were dancing on the sidewalk and there was always a steady crowd of people walking through to experience this community driven village.  Lui created the entrance with the logo and before the event opened, he added flags from all the Hispanic countries to the white posts which made the entrance even more colorful.  It was such a beautiful sight!

Fiesta board member – Mike Suco – helps his parents, Teresa and Ramon Suco – set up the Cuba booth in the Cultural Village in 2005.

2005 – Fiesta’s 3rd year – This is such a favorite photo of mine because it features Fiesta board member, Mike Suco with his parents – Teresa and Ramon Suco.  Mike’s mother, Teresa, found out that Cuba was NOT represented the year before in the cultural village and she was not going to let that happen that particular year!  She took it upon herself to create a beautiful Cuba booth along with her husband and as you can see in this photo – her son, Mike too!  Teresa and Ramon Suco fled Cuba under the Castro regime in 1962, shortly after they were married and came to the US not knowing the language or anyone and made a great life for themselves and their children.  Mr.Suco worked his way to District Supervisor at Big B Drugs while Teresa Suco became a Professor of Spanish at Jacksonville State University.  I remember the first year I was President of Fiesta, Mike told me his mother asked about me and wanted to make sure I was doing all right and he was helping me enough!  I always felt we had a special bond because we shared the same name.  Such lovely people…

2006 – Fiesta’s 4th year – I had been photographing Fiesta all day and was trying to head over to the VIP area to grab a quick bite to eat when I saw Cultural Village (CV) Chair, Lui Fernandez rush over to me.  He excitedly told me I needed to get to the CV stage right away and get some pictures!  Of course, I followed him right over and there on the stage were the cutest children dressed in traditional Mexican costumes dancing traditional Mexican dances!  Their faces were so sweet too!  I remember thinking they seemed so shy and yet they were smiling and dancing their little hearts out for the crowd that had gathered.  This was the year we added the CV stage and I remember there was quite a bit of activity with other dance performances and even a short play in Spanish!  I’m just so grateful that Lui saw me when he did and told me to get to the stage or I would have missed this performance.  This became one of my favorite memories of Fiesta in 2006 – seeing the sweet faces of these children and seeing my friend, Lui’s face, beaming from a distance as he watched this take place…

More to come so please come back every Friday through September 30, 2017!

Speaking Spanish and Being Latino

Nuestra Cultura (Our Culture) Town Hall at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) in January featured a discussion on being Latino and speaking Spanish.

Nuestra Cultura (Our Culture) Town Hall at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) in January featured a discussion on being Latino and speaking Spanish.

At the January Town Hall I attended at The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute called “Nuestra Cultura” (Our Culture), the topic of language in the Latino community was discussed.  Does not being able to speak Spanish make you any less Latino/Hispanic?  I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic since then and wanting to write about it.  My own experience learning Spanish kept coming back to me as I listened to several members of the Town Hall audience share their stories and opinions.  Meanwhile, so many instances of Spanish language and what it means to the community have popped up in new articles and on social media.  The Pew Research Center published some research on this and breaking it down many different ways.  Overall, 71% of Latino adults say it is NOT necessary to speak Spanish to be considered Latino.  Even Republican Presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Tex Cruz sparred a bit recently about speaking Spanish at a Republican debate in South Carolina!

Graphic from the Pew Research Center - taken from the Pew Research website.

Graphic from the Pew Research Center – taken from the Pew Research website.

When I was 6 years old, my family moved from Beltsville, Maryland to Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico.  I remember vividly walking into my first grad classroom at Cupeyville Elementary and not speaking a word of Spanish.  My teacher spoke English and helped me maneuver getting set up in the classroom but I don’t remember anyone else speaking to me in English.  It was frightening not being able to understand what was going on those first few weeks.  I soon learned on the playground that my classmates were rather curious about the new “American” kid in the classroom.  I was considered the American kid – because I only spoke English – even though my father was Mexican-American.  Many of the kids were very kind to me and we got along using the universal language of playground games – jump rope and others – during recess.  Meanwhile, I was like a sponge soaking up my classes in Spanish and learning to speak the language that I knew was my father’s first but I rarely heard him speak until we made the move to Puerto Rico.

Some of my Spanish books from 7th grade at Sagrado Corazon school.

Some of my Spanish books from 7th grade at Sagrado Corazon school.

By 4th grade, my parents moved me and my sisters to a Catholic school so we would be exposed to a religious education.  All subjects were taught in Spanish except for Religion and English.  Those two were taught by the Benedictine nuns at Sagrado Corazón (Sacred Heart) school.  I was immersed in Spanish from the ages 6 to 12 and when we moved to Chicago, Illinois midway through my 7th grade year, I continued taking Spanish as an elective all through high school.  Friends in high school would say it was an easy “A” for me every time they would see Spanish on my schedule.  But I begged to differ.  Once, after this statement was made to me I asked my friend, “don’t you take an English class?”  She said, “yes, you know I do…I sit right next to you!”  I grinned and asked her “do you get all A’s?”  To which she replied…”good one…”

Having a second language has been a great benefit all my life.  When I was a senior in high school, I took a school sponsored trip with a few classmates to Mexico.  My friends relied heavily on me during that trip.  One day we were looking for a market and two friends found a policeman and started asking him for directions.  They were supposed to be practicing their Spanish but were struggling so they pulled me up and I began asking for help and directions.  When I had finished he answered me in perfect English!  It was rather amusing – my friends asked him, “why didn’t you tell us you spoke English?”  He said, “you didn’t ask?”

Some of the photos from my senior high school trip to Mexico - top left is me on top of the Sun Pyramid. Bottom pic is of some of our group on the tour bus - we got rained out at the pyramid sound and light show that night!

Some of the photos from my senior high school trip to Mexico – top left is me on top of the Sun Pyramid. Bottom pic is of some of our group on the tour bus – we got rained out at the pyramid sound and light show that night!

Living in the suburbs of Chicago, there were times I would be called upon to help interpret or translate Spanish.  It didn’t happen very often, but it was great fun when it did happen confirming further how fortunate I was to be bilingual.  I know my father was happy me and my sisters were getting exposure to Spanish.  He was always such a proponent of language and was self-taught in several.  He was equally happy that we were able to speak to our grandmother – nana – in  Spanish when we would call her in New Mexico.  If I ever started speaking English to her, she would simply say “en español” – meaning “in Spanish,” so I would respect this request and return to speaking Spanish.

When I moved to Birmingham, Alabama in 1980, I encountered no Spanish speakers…for a long time.  I would look for ways to hear Spanish and with cable television – again this was the mid-1980s – I was able to get the WGN Chicago station and a Saturday morning show called “Charlando.”  This was a long-running Spanish-language community affairs “chat” and the guy who hosted the show spoke SO fast that it was a challenge to understand him at times.  My father even said to me one Saturday, “if you can understand what he is saying, then you are doing quite well.!”  That made me feel good!  Of course, in the late 1990s through early 2000s, the Hispanic population in the Birmingham region grew tremendously and it was not unusual to go to the local mall and hear Spanish being spoken.  It was like music to my ears and always made me smile as I eavesdropped just a little.

Now after almost 15 years of involvement with the Hispanic community in Birmingham, Most of my Latino friends know I speak Spanish but there are some who are still surprised when I do.  I was at a Hispanic event last fall when I joined a group of friends in Spanish conversation.  On the way to my car later, one of the women said to me in Spanish – “Teresa, I had no idea you could speak Spanish like that!”  I said, “Yes, I’m just full of surprises!”  I do look for opportunities to speak Spanish.  You would think it would be easy these days but English always seems to override.

Looking back, I’ve had varied experiences being bilingual.  Some would say that I’m not bilingual “enough,” while others say I speak just fine.  It all depends on who you are, I suppose.  And all this goes back to the original question I posed…does a Latino need to speak  Spanish to be considered Latino?  I identify as Latina and have done so for a long time.  So, how much Spanish is enough?  I will explore this multi-layered subject more in future posts.

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