One of the most anticipated cultural events in Berkshire County is back in person this year — just in time for Hispanic Heritage Month!  

The Festival Latino of the Berkshires will celebrate its 25th anniversary, Saturday September 25th in Great Barrington — and with its returns comes the food, music, and dancing the community eagerly awaits each year.  

Zydalis Bauer spoke with festival organizer Erika Wainwright Vélez to learn more about how the event began and how it has grown and evolved since the first festival in 1995. 

Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: One of the most anticipated cultural events in Berkshire County is back in person this year.

The Festival Latino of the Berkshires will celebrate its 25th anniversary Saturday, September 25th in Great Barrington, and with its return comes the food, music, and dancing the community eagerly awaits each year.

I spoke with Erika Wainwright Vélez, Public Relations Manager, to learn more about how the festival began and how it has grown and evolved since the first festival in 1995.

Erika Wainwright Vélez, Festival Latino of the Berkshires: So, the Festival Latino was founded by Liliana Ortiz-Bermudez and German Bermudez, as well as their friend Doris Orellana. They’re the founders of the Festival Latino of the Berkshires, and in the 1980s, they were living here and they were going to different events.

And at the time, there was no, you know, Latino representation in the different events that they were going to. So, they wanted to see some kind of Latino presence in the area, but there was none.

Zydalis Bauer: Since 1995, this festival has begun, I’m sure that it has evolved and grown over the years. Talk to me about that change that has happened that we’ve seen.

Erika Wainwright Vélez: Yeah, the Festival Latino began purely as a celebration. They wanted to have fun. They wanted an opportunity to celebrate with the Latino community in the area. They wanted a space where they could show their pride, their culture, their folklore.

But, what they didn’t realize in its inception, was that Festival Latino would become an impactful, powerful, and influential educational experience for everyone as well.

Zydalis Bauer: This festival has created a legacy in the Berkshires with its cultural performances, music, and, of course, food.

What can we expect during this milestone celebration this year?

Erika Wainwright Vélez: We have six different professional dance groups coming from New York City who are all going to perform, representing the folklore of the various countries that they’re coming from. We have local performances, we have local vendors, food vendors, we have organizations coming to do activities with kids, social organizations coming to promote their services, both for the Latino and non-Hispanic communities in the area.

All around, the celebration is a is a collaboration between both local community members and businesses, as well as performances from professional groups.

Zydalis Bauer: In the Berkshire Eagle, organizers of the festival describe this event as one of the most eagerly anticipated cultural events of the year.

In your opinion, what do you think it is about this event that makes the community so eager for it to happen each year?

Erika Wainwright Vélez: I think the big part of it is how much joy and how much pride and how much just excitement there is within our culture that we’re we’re here to display and to represent. We come from so many different countries within Latin America, but there’s so much culture within each of those countries that’s represented.

It’s also just so exciting to have so many different cultures within the overall umbrella of Latin America coming to this festival, and being represented, and offering not only the non-Hispanic community to learn and to participate in all of that culture, but also for the Hispanic community to really express their pride and enjoy a little piece of home.

Zydalis Bauer: You spoke a little bit about the educational aspect, which is really interesting because I also remember at the festival that there was a table to come speak conversational Spanish.

In what other ways is there educational elements throughout the festival for people to learn more about their culture if they are of the Hispanic-Latino community or for others who are from different communities in the region?

Erika Wainwright Vélez: I think every piece of the of the Festival Latino is educational in some way. Each of the professional performances are displaying some piece of their own folklore — from be it Mexico, the Dominican Republic, where I’m from, from Costa Rica, from wherever, wherever these the countries that are being represented. Each group is coming to show off their own folklore and tell their own stories. So, that in and of itself is educational.

Learning about the different foods from the vendors, you can always have a conversation and learn about the different foods. There are artisans, there are artists showing off their art, and overall, there’s just a huge community of Latin American people and Hispanic people there.

So, I think every every little component comes together to be an educational experience in a lot of different ways.

Zydalis Bauer: What has been the most rewarding part for you being a part of this festival?

Erika Wainwright Vélez: Hmm. That’s a great question! So, when I was younger, I remember dancing in the in the Lee Founders’ Day parade with the Festival Latino. So, now being able to participate as part of the committee organizing the Festival Latino has been incredibly gratifying.

And I have a lot of gratitude for the Latin American community in the area, as being part of my upbringing and my education, and I have a lot of love for them. So,being able to give some of that back and participate in the creation of the celebration has definitely been gratifying.

Zydalis Bauer: When I visited the festival back in 2019 for Connecting Point, I spoke with founder Liliana and I remember her telling me that in her first 10 to 12 years living in Berkshire County, she rarely saw any fellow Latinos in the community. But now much of that has changed.

So, what would you like people to know about this growing community in the Berkshire county?

Erika Wainwright Vélez: I would love people to know about our joy. I would love people to know about our talent. I would love people to know about the hard-working, community-oriented nature that we have culturally. And I would love people to know that we’re a very loving people, and and we want to get to know you as much as you want to get to know us.

So, I think the festival is a perfect opportunity for our communities to all come together to learn about each other, to celebrate with each other, and to support each other.