DC looks to ‘preserve and promote’ its Latino culture during Hispanic Heritage Month

D.C.’s Hispanic Heritage Month calendar of events this year will have more than just festivals and parties. Along with the traditional festivities, the Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs is focused on trying to “preserve and promote” the city’s Latino history, heritage and culture.

The initiative called “El Distrito de Cultura” — translated to the Culture District — looks to use grant programs, cultural activities and panel discussions as a hook to better acknowledge the presence and contribution of the city’s Latino residents. According the most recent Census, Hispanics or Latinos represent 11.5% of D.C.’s population.

“In every aspect of our society, in the culture, the flavors, our food, it’s like the Latinos have been bringing that spark into what we call the District of Columbia,” Interim Executive Director Eduardo Perdomo said.

The Latino Affairs office began planning out events for Hispanic Heritage Month at the beginning of the year. Even with the specific theming, Perdomo said the month will feature something for every resident, young and old, while advertising what services the office provides for the city’s Latinos year-round, such as services relating to immigration, housing, education, health and wellness.

“We have a plan, but for us, the Hispanic Heritage Month, or the Hispanic heritage, this is an everyday thing.” Perdomo said. “It is not only a month or celebration during a certain period of time. It’s just like through our everyday operations. We have to engage in the reality or the realities of the Latino communities.”

D.C.’s calendar of Hispanic Heritage Month events. (Courtesy DC’s Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs)

This year’s celebrations began Friday with D.C.’s kickoff event at Lamont Plaza in Mount Pleasant. Along with music and food, the District honored four neighborhood businesses — Golden Scissors Hair Salon, Marx Cafe, Haydee’s Restaurant and El Tamarindo — with Legacy Business Grants to help keep them as mainstays within the Adams Morgan area for years to come.

Throughout the month, the office plans to host three pop-ups events in different parts of the city featuring different themes in an “abstract” way, Perdomo said. One possible display may feature a book display while another could feature musicians performing in the middle of the day. The goal is to engage everyday people while they are doing their daily chores, reminding them of the city’s Latino population, he said.

The pop-ups will lead to the city’s staple Hispanic Heritage Month event: Fiesta DC Festival and Fiesta DC Parade on Sept. 24-25. The two-day event is considered the largest Latino festival in the District, Perdomo said, adding that those new to the area will get “sense of community” from its Latino residents right away by attending.

“That’s something that you will be able to see through the food that is going to be served there [and] the costumes that people are going to be wearing,” he said. “It’s such a beautiful opportunity to get a taste of the different countries of Latin America and their representation here in the District of Columbia of all of these Diasporas.”

Dancers perform during the 2021 Fiesta DC Parade. (Courtesy DC’s Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs)

While Latinos “love to party,” Perdomo said there are things that the community wants to address as well. To meet that need, the office organizes multiple panel discussions and conferences to engage its residents and remind them that the city has the resources for their needs. Topics include disability services, Latinos in government, senior services and the history of Latinos in D.C.

One of the highlighted discussions is a presentation on Latinos in the entertainment industry for children, and it’s featuring Puerto Rican actor Pierre Jean Gonzalez of the famed Broadway musical “Hamilton” at the GALA Hispanic Theater on Sept. 21 from 4 to 5:15 p.m. He will also participate in an entrepreneurship event at the Latino Economic Development Center in Columbia Heights on Oct. 3 from 5 to 7 p.m.

“It’s a unique opportunity that someone part of a cast … of a well renowned play,” he said. “We have to connect our kids to him so they can see themselves in someone successful that might look like them.”

D.C.’s Hispanic Heritage Month will end celebrating itself. On the same day of its “El Noche Cultural” or Culture Night on Oct. 15 at the Cardazo Education Campus in Northwest, the Latino Affairs office will be celebrating its 46th anniversary. Along with the celebration, the District’s other community partners plan set up activations to remind D.C. residents of services the city provides.

And for Perdomo, a naturalized citizen from the Dominican Republic, that is one of his goals. He said it is his “expectation” to use these events to connect and fully engage people with D.C.’s vibrant and “colorful” Latino community.

“I encourage people to stop by [the events]; it’s going to be super fun,” he said. “But most importantly, it is going to be the beginning of the promotion, preservation of the Latino cultures here in the district, through ‘El Distrito de Cultura.'”

José Umaña

José Umaña is a digital editor for WTOP. He’s been working as a journalist for almost a decade, covering local news, education and sports. His work has appeared in The Prince George’s Sentinel, The Montgomery Sentinel, Orlando Sentinel, PressBox and The Diamondback.

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