By Cara Kenefick
When Olga Delarosa’s house burned down in 1996, the Hartford community, especially its Dominican residents, rallied around her like she never believed possible.
“A lot of Domincans came to me with clothes, a piece of paper, a napkin. . . anything they could find to give to me,” she recalled. Delarosa, who had moved to Connecticut from New York, said Connecticut’s Dominican community has been a welcoming environment like none other.
She also recounted how many of her children’s teachers helped her get back on her feet as well.
“I feel so grateful that my daughter and son went to Hartford High,” she said. “I’m a single mother. . .[In New York] I never felt that they did anything like that for a particular person.”
For someone who has received so much, Delarosa said it is only natural for her to want to give back to the community. Helping organize the first Dominican Festival, which is coming to Pope Park this Sunday, Aug. 18, is just one way she hopes to celebrate the close-knit ties the state’s Dominicans have between each other. It also serves as a way to give back to a community that has helped her through tough times.
Here in Connecticut, Delarosa felt a different, more welcoming energy that carries on to this day. “The Dominican population in Connecticut has a different mentality, even from the Dominicans in Miami. They have more connection with our people, talking and helping each other.”
Connecticut’s Dominican population has been growing steadily over the past decade, and the small but mighty community believes they are overdue for a celebration of their culture.
According to data from the 2010 U.S. Census, the country’s Dominican population has increased significantly since 2000. Thirteen years ago, 764,945 Dominicans reported living in the United States, whereas just three years ago, there were approximately 1,414,703 residents making up the Dominican population. What’s more, an overwhelming majority of the country’s Dominicans, 1,104,802 of them by 2010 numbers, reported living in the Northeast.
Delarosa, along with fellow festival organizer Victor Luna, said the growing Dominican presence in Connecticut has been apparent for some time.
Across all towns and cities, like Waterbury, Hartford, New Britain, and Meriden, the state’s Dominican community is “growing big time”, Luna said.
“The festival was way overdue,” Luna said, explaining that since New York and Boston both have prominent Dominican festivals, Connecticut should be no different. “There’s no reason why we can’t be at their level.”
For the past five months, Luna, who is Puerto Rican, and Delarosa, a Dominican, have been hustling to pull the festival together, from wrangling sponsors, to getting feedback from the community, to landing entertainment acts and vendors. He said, laughing, “It’s a Latino thing…you wait until the last minute!”
For Delarosa, the festival carries many levels of meaning. On the surface, it celebrates the unique culture of Connecticut’s Dominicans. But, there is also an underlying gratefulness in her work that serves as a “thank you” to the community as well.
The Dominican community in Connecticut has a lot to offer, Delarosa said, and she hopes people begin to see who they are and what they are capable of accomplishing.
“We are lot more than just bodegas,” she said.
The festival is not the only effort Delarosa has put into celebrating her Dominican heritage. She also directs the Dominican Pageant of Connecticut, which is dedicated to encouraging cultural pride and understanding for younger generations of Dominicans. The pageant, now in its second year, does not but the main focus on the beauty aspect of pageantry, but promotes education, civic values and community integration.
Along with traditional components of pageantry, like traditional and formal wear, the young Latinas also must learn about the culture, geography and civics of the Dominican Republic through a series of educational workshops.
More than promoting physical beauty, the pageant helps to retain their culture, Delarosa said.
Opportunities to hone in on Dominican culture, like that the pageant and the festival, have been well received by local Latinos.
“The community definitely wants this,” Luna said. “They’ve been dying for it. We want everyone to come out and support the festival and the local vendors and the talent.”
Based on their projections, Luna said they expect a few thousand people to turn out, and that everyone – not just Dominicans and Latinos – should be involved in the celebration. The main goal is to get people out to Hartford to see the positive events that are happening.
The festival will run from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Pope Park in Hartford. For more information or if you would like to be a sponsor, contact Victor Luna or Olga Delarosa.
CTLatinoNews.com, RILatinoNews.com and MassLatinoNews.com are media sponsors for the festival.
(Photo by JMazzolaaa via Flickr)