BY JEANETTE LENOIR
The Latino Festival at Hanna Park brought out many people to celebrate a unique culture, and its significance as part of the fabric that makes up our American culture. The event marked its 11th year this time around, highlighting the lives of Latinos in the Mohawk Valley.
Latinos have called the area home for many years. They’re comprised of a diverse group of peoples from Mexico, Central and South America, and Spanish-speaking Caribbean nations. Latinos have made enormous contribution to society and American culture as a whole, however, according to a NYS Office of Cultural Education study, a historical account of their lives and migration across New York State is surprisingly very limited. Latino influences are all around us. Nevertheless, the commercialized celebrations of Latino culture barely cover the day to day realities many of them face in communities all across New York. In other words, Latinos are still struggling in an increasingly hostile world despite being one of the fastest growing communities across the state. And, we’re barely taking notice of it from a historical and archival view point, according to the study.
The State Education Department also found that only a handful of organizations are keeping historical records of Latino history and culture in the state. The researchers responsible for the publication; A Guide to Documenting Latino/Hispanic History & Culture in New York State stress that the discovery of limited data makes it all that more important for people, especially in the Latino community, to collect and record artifacts and make records to help preserve their history in New York. The study also serves as a guide for anyone interested in becoming a record collector. Another important notice taken by the researchers is that Latino activists and politicians on every level of government across the state take on tremendous tasks to support their community, but rarely get any type of official recognition for their contributions, making it even more troublesome to keep historical records and documentations of Latino lives.
With this in mind, it’s only fitting to mention the organizers of the annual Latino Festival in Utica; Sonia Martinez, Anthony Tony Colon, Lindy Colon, Kevin Marken and Ed Jackson, board members of the Mohawk Valley Latino Association, (MVLA). Mr. Colon said, “The Latino Association was formed approximately 14-years ago and we decided that every year we would have an event, invite friends and family from the community, not just Latinos but everybody, and here we are. This is our greatest turn out so far and we certainly are very supportive of the community and this is just another example of being members of this community.” Through its work in the community, MVLA in many ways serves as an unofficial collector and preserver of Latino culture in Utica.
Martinez, a founding member of MVLA fits the description of one of the community leaders that contributes substantially to Latinos in Utica. Her many contributions go largely unrecognized. Martinez is constantly on the move helping with language services, assistance with housing, social and immigration services, and even acting as a chauffeur to help those struggling make appointments. Young Latinos throughout Utica have benefitted from Martinez’s service and activism. The Latino Festival is a great opportunity to highlight the culture and its roots, and document the achievements and contributions being made by Martinez and many others like her.
Like any other official event, the festival opened with the singing of the National Anthem, sang by Lindy Colon, followed by greetings from the organizers, special guests, and local politicians, including Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente, State Senator Joseph Griffo and former Congressman, Michael Arcuri.
Marken sums it up best when he said, “It’s a rich tradition. With the food, the music, the language, all of the different elements that really help America to be what it is. And the Latino, Hispanic cultures are some of the most critical important parts of that entire wonderful thing that make it up to be America.” The study noted that the Puerto Rican community is not only the largest and oldest Latino community in the state; they’re also the most documented. Their documentation and archives started in 1972 at Hunter College, “It is the only archives in New York State that is devoted primarily to Latino documentation.”
Here are some historical events and milestones in Latino/Hispanic history worth sharing:
- Spanish American War 1898
- Puerto Ricans granted U.S. citizenship 1917
- Immigration acts of 1965 and 1986
- Events in Latin America leading to emigration: Cuban revolution (1959), Dominican rebellion and U.S. occupation (1965), wars in Central America, etc.
- Aspira Consent Decree (1973) which led to the Bilingual Education Act,( later renamed the English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, and Academic Achievement Act, as a result of No Child Left Behind.)
Efforts to achieve economic, social and political change remain an on-going struggle in the Latino community right here in Utica. Find out how you can help advance these goals by contacting MVLA to join local, grassroots work already underway.