In city, a fiesta inside a festival

Culture: Baltimore Hispanics infuse their food, dance and music into Fells Point's annual street fair.

October 07, 2002|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Being from southeast Los Angeles, Liz Zacharia said it's hard to find Mexican food in Baltimore like she is used to at home.

But at the Fells Point Fun Festival yesterday, she and her boyfriend, Steve Santillan, savored a chicken tamale she said was worthy of the West Coast city.

"It's really good," Zacharia said as she put a forkful in her mouth, squinting in the midday sun.

Then she looked at the plate and apologized to her boyfriend: "Oh, I'm eating it all."

Zacharia, who lives in Bolton Hill, and Santillan, who lives in Little Italy, stopped by the Plaza Hispana on Broadway, a square block of Hispanic culture on display as part of Fells Point's largest outdoor festival.

The 36th annual Fells Point Fun Festival was spread across more than 11 blocks of Southeast Baltimore, featuring food, carnival rides, music, jewelry, furniture and plenty of beverages. It attracted an estimated 750,000 people during the weekend, festival coordinator Denise Whitman said yesterday.

In the Plaza Hispana, there was musica latina (Latin music), bailando (dancing), artesania (crafts) and comida tipica (typical food) to honor the growing Hispanic population in Fells Point and across the city. Census figures say about 11,000 Hispanics live in Baltimore, but activists say the number is about three times as many.

"We tried to be inclusive of our community and recognize the greater influence Spanish Town has had," Whitman said.

The area around yesterday's Plaza Hispana was dubbed Spanish Town a few years ago because of the emergence of Hispanic restaurants, groceries and stores. While cities such as Miami, Los Angeles, Washington and Chicago have been infused with large numbers of Hispanic immigrants for decades, the trend is fairly recent in Baltimore.

This is the third year the Hispanic community has had its own section of the Fells Point festival.

"The Polish, Germans and Irish all made their homes in Fells Point when they were new immigrants," Whitman said. "Now we have Spanish Town continuing that tradition."

The Fells Point Fun Festival began in 1967 when the neighborhood was being threatened with extinction. An expressway was being planned that would have run through the community, forcing the leveling of many 18th-century rowhouses.

The Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fells Point was formed that year and was instrumental in saving the neighborhoods. More than three decades later, the festival is thriving and is the main fund-raiser for the group.

Heather Anderson, who lives in Canton, and her boyfriend, Jason Dorshow, who lives in Federal Hill, said they were drawn to the Plaza Hispana yesterday because it was lively.

"It's wonderful to bring this ethnic flavor to Baltimore," said Anderson, who shared a plate of paella with her boyfriend.

She bought a wallet at the festival, but what she really felt like doing, she said, was dancing salsa.

"That is, if someone would dance with me," she said looking at Dorshow, who shyly shook his head "no."

Delfina Pereda, a native Guatemalan who has helped to organize Hispanic festivals in Baltimore, said she was delighted to see the Plaza Hispana, but said she would like to see more diversity in the food offerings.

"Hispanics come from dozens of different countries with dozens of different flavors," said Pereda, 81, who lives in Waverly. "But overall this is a good festival. To make a good festival you have to put your soul, your heart and your mind into it."

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