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For the last 13 years, the Festival Hispano was a local tradition that celebrated the diverse culture of Columbus through entertainment, exhibits, rides and food.

Sponsored by Fernando Lopez, owner of El Tapatio Mexican Restaurant, the event recognized the changing culture of Columbus, a celebration of where people came from and where they are today.

Now, the festival is taking on an entirely different face. Centro Hispano has taken over management of the event and has shaped it into a celebration of the wide variety of Hispanic cultures.

The Festival de las Americas will follow in the footsteps of the Festival Hispano, taking place in the same spot (the Ag Park) around the same time (September) as the previous event. This year’s event will kick off around 5 p.m. Friday, with festivities taking place all day Saturday and wrapping up around 5 p.m. Sunday. However, instead of having a primarily Mexican complexion like in past years, this event will expand its reach to all of the different Hispanic cultures in Columbus.

“We wanted to make the festival a little bit more community-oriented,” said Karina Perez, executive director of Centro Hispano. “Not that his (Lopez’s) wasn’t, it’s just more focused on fun educational experiences, family-centered and community-centered. We wanted to bring in a new name with that and that (was) also more inclusive of every country on the Western Hemisphere.”

Countries like Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica all declared their independence from Spain in the month of September. In this sense, it’s appropriate to have a celebration even after many of these people have left their countries of origin.

“Here in the United States, we celebrate the Fourth of July,” said Katherine Lopez, communications and event coordinator for Centro Hispano. “In other countries, whether it be North America, Central America or South America, those celebrations fall in September. It’s a really big celebration to celebrate where we all come from and come together as a community.”

The event will include a wide variety of entertainment designed to spotlight varied Hispanic cultures, from dancers performing pieces from their native lands to a presentation about Colombia’s famed Carnaval de Barranquilla. Students from both Columbus High School and Schuyler Central High School will also be present, with the CHS band performing Saturday and students at SCHS making a presentation on Sunday.

However, the main goal of the event is to educate while also being entertaining. To that end, many community organizations will also be present, promoting themselves while also being a part of the festivities.

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“Centro Hispano ourselves will be there, Platte Valley Literacy Association will be there (just to name a few),” Lopez said. “Things people can find information for, but also have a good time doing it. I’m most excited for that.”

There is also an educational aspect to the performances. For many in the community, this may be their first time seeing a glimpse of the varied and vast Hispanic cultures.

“Obviously, the carnival rides (and) the zoo are good for the kids (and) gives us that family atmosphere,” Perez said. “But being able to see the beautiful dresses and the beautiful ware of these traditional communities is a beautiful thing. Each dance comes with a story. That’s my favorite part. You’re able to see that tradition that’s rich and all these different cultures.”

Plenty of food will also be available, with vendors attending from places like Norfolk, Omaha and New Orleans to name a few. There will also be dances to cap off both Friday and Saturday night, El Gran Baile on Friday night and Los Negociantes on Saturday. Each has a different and unique style, but both promise a fun and festive atmosphere regardless.

“That will be something different for us,” Perez said. “Everyone can come on down (and) have some drinks. We’re very excited for that.”

Perez is hopeful for good attendance in the event’s first year as the Festival de las Americas. She and Lopez want people to have a good time, but are also interested in promoting the diversity of Platte County, even among people identified as the same race.

“Just by hosting this festival, we really want to promote diversity,” Lopez said. “Our doors are always open to all walks of life, so we really try to promote the diversity and culture and inclusivity into our community so people can acclimate to that culture. We are one community and we’re just trying to promote that.”

Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at zachary.roth@lee.net.

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Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at zachary.roth@lee.net.

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