Towson gets in on `Latin action'

LatinoFest moves from city to spread culture, aromas of ethnic fare to Courthouse Square

August 27, 2006|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

Adriana Chalfont waited in a line of children yesterday at the LatinoFest in Towson for a face painting or maybe a temporary tattoo. She danced barefoot to mariachi music, sampled savory fare, shopped for imported wares and, in true bipartisan fashion, attached to her bright red outfit every political campaign sticker offered to her.

"I love festivals, and I go to talk to people," said the 50-year-old Baltimore resident. "We all have to celebrate who we are and how we are all connected. We are truly more alike than we are different. I have a lot of Native American in me, but some of me came to this country in a boat."

She visited LatinoFest yesterday at its debut in Baltimore County and expected to be at the Native American celebration in Patterson Park today. She also hoped to fit in the State Fair in Timonium.

"I can't forget the farmers," she said.

LatinoFest, which typically takes place among the city's round of summer festivals, has spread its wings to Baltimore County, where the Hispanic population has grown to close to 20,000, according to census figures.

"We are going north of the border, where 20 percent of our people live," said Jose Ruiz, director of Education-Based Latino Outreach, the festival sponsor. "Baltimore County needs some Latin action."

By early yesterday afternoon, the crowd filled a closed-off street and much of Courthouse Square in the heart of Towson, where more than 60 vendors set up shop. Visitors could gather information in English or Spanish on topics that ranged from college loans to health care and jobs. The cooking in dozens of booths filled the air with enticing aromas, while dancers in traditional folk costumes and musicians strumming guitars entertained from the stage.

Amelia Sarah Marie Holter, 22 months, stepped to the lively beat in her tiny leather sandals, while her father snapped her picture. Randy and Debbie Holter of Parkton adopted the curly-topped toddler from Guatemala more than a year ago.

"We came here because it is an important part of Amelia's heritage and culture," said Debbie Holter. "She is wearing clothes made in Guatemala. She loves the music, and she loves black beans and rice."

The Holters had been to the city LatinoFest but were pleased the event had come closer to their home.

Dozens of chefs fired up grills and cooked on stovetops, offering tamales, empanadas and chorizo. Ruiz counted more than 20 different cuisines.

"Everything is done a little differently, and they all taste good," he said.

Juan Uribe, 14, flipped arepas, which looked like oversized pancakes, on a sizzling grill until they were golden brown with cheese bubbling around the edges.

"They are corn with cheese in the middle," he said. "They are not hard to cook, but I have no idea how to make them or what kind of cheese is in them."

Jonine Callahan, outreach worker for the Baltimore County Health Department, downed a fried plantain before manning a booth that offered health care information.

"It may have been fried, but at least it was fruit," she said.

Krista Heaney, 14, expected to stick with tacos, familiar fare at her home in Dundalk. The teenager was more interested in the jewelry than any entree.

"I love how the jewelry is hand-painted," she said.

With a few brushes from a face painter, 9-year-old Julissa Melendez took on the image of a Dalmatian. She topped off her black-and-white whiskered look with a firefighter's red helmet and a silver badge, then took a turn dancing with a clown making the rounds of the festival.

The doggy look cost $5, paid by her big sister, Lindsay Buzzard. But some things didn't cost a cent, as evidenced by Julissa's bag full of giveaways gathered at the festival.

"I am loving all this free stuff," she said.

Organizers hope the Towson version of the festival becomes a tradition. Proceeds from the one-day event benefit EBLO activities, including an after-school program recently established for Latino children at Deep Creek Middle School in Essex.

"We have about 3,500 Latino children in county schools," said Alicia Vila Wich, resource teacher. "The county is trying all sorts of different things to get families to participate in different events like this festival. It is a great opportunity for everyone."

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