As National Hispanic Heritage Month approaches, there are many cultural events you’ll want to mark on the calendar. But to start your month-long cultural celebration, look to the Latin Music Festival (LMF) in Stratford. The festival is held on Sept. 15, so attending is a great way to kick-off festivities.
The LMF has drawn a huge crowd to the Paradise Green in Stratford for the past 5 years. With a variety of musicians playing Spanish music, dancers bringing their Latin moves and food vendors bringing their spicy menus, this festival is culturally rich and well supported by the community.
“It’s a beautiful festival,” says Gladys Ramos, committee member of the Stratford Hispanic Heritage Committee (HHC), which puts on the festival each year. “It usually starts at 12 p.m. and goes all day until 6 p.m. The whole town is invited. We have local vendors that come, we have different musical bands, we also have all kinds of food trucks selling Latino/Hispanic food, and we have different dancers from different countries—we try every year to get two to three different Spanish countries represented by the dancers, so nobody is left out. You know we have over 20 Spanish speaking countries and I like to have everybody participate. If it’s not Mexican, it’s Venezuelan, if it’s not Venezuelan it’s Puerto Rican, and on and on. I always try to incorporate and represent as many different countries as I can. And we always decorate the gazebo with all different Spanish (language) country’s flags. We really try to encourage everyone to come out and dance and have a good time.”
Festivities weren’t always this grandiose. When the HHC first started this celebration 14 years ago they held it at the public library where they celebrated with music and smaller cultural activities. Soon the celebration outgrew the library and HHC moved the festivities to the town hall. “The mayor actually invited us to use the chamber at the town hall because it had gotten so big,” recalls Ramos. “And then the chamber got too small and we had to move to the Stratford High School cafeteria. We had lots of room there for the music and dancing and speakers. But then from there, we joined forces with a group from Stratford called Celebrate Stratford, which has 9 or 10 celebrations of their own throughout the year. So, once we got invited to join them, we moved the festival to Paradise Green in Stratford.”
Not only will HHC be celebrating Latino culture with this year’s music festival but they will be celebrating their 5th-anniversary partnering with Celebrate Stratford and their 14th anniversary celebrating Hispanic heritage.
Mayor Laura R. Hoydick says of the festival: “I am thrilled that this terrific festival has become an enduring Stratford tradition. The celebration of our community’s Hispanic and Latino culture and roots is one of the cornerstones of the proud way we honor diversity in Stratford. I hope everyone will take the opportunity to bring their families to Paradise Green on Sunday, Sept. 15, and join us for great food, fun, and music!”
Ramos says the town of Stratford has always been very supportive of the festival. “It is truly a community effort. The festival is made possible by all those that come out to support us. The mayor is involved, the town is involved and they help us put on the festival financially. You know, we are a small committee, but when we do something like this everyone puts their all into it. It’s like family, maybe you only have a few but when you need them they are there.”
The small but fierce committee has proven themselves time and time again and the town of Stratford has been there to lend a helping hand. For the past few years, Paradise Pizza has also been a festival sponsor. “They are great,” says Ramos of the pizza joint. “They are right across the street from where we have the festival and people like to go grab a slice and sit on their blankets on the grass and have a picnic with their families.”
Olga Peña, also an HHC committee member, says, “My two cents is to make sure you don’t miss the virgin piña coladas this year. We will be taking the proceeds of those and putting it towards our scholarship program.”
HHC’s scholarship program is geared towards Latino high school students and the amount ranges from $250 to $500 per student. At last year’s Scholarship Gala, the HHC presented students with $7,000 in scholarship money. Currently, they are working on raising money for their next gala in February 2020. So while you are listening to great music, eating amazing food and celebrating Latino culture … you can be supporting the next generation of Latinos as well.
For more information or for contact information visit the Stratford Hispanic Heritage Committee’s webpage here.
Publisher’s Note: Watch for Hispanic Heritage Month (9/15 – 10/15) special reports focused on community, arts & culture, education, economy, and politics.