La Fiesta del Pueblo caters to Triangle's growing Latino community

aspecht@newsobserver.comSeptember 8, 2013 

This story incorrectly stated that North Carolina's Hispanic/Latino population grew 111 percent between 2010 and today. The population is estimated to have grown 110 percent between 2000 and 2010. A photo caption also included incorrect information. The child in the photo is reading a book in the "Captain Underpants" series not "Captain America."

RALEIGH - Mid-afternoon Sunday, Florence Siman gazed across Moore Square from the corner of Blount and Hargett streets.

She kept a walkie-talkie in her hand at all times. When she wasn’t speaking into it, she was resting it on her shoulder.

To her right, a family perused insurance materials in the shadow of a Blue Cross and Blue Shield bus.

In front of her, a college student approached a couple about petitioning the federal government for immigration reform. To Siman’s left, families lined up to take photos inside an old-fashioned carriage sponsored by Wells Fargo.

Referring to the Triangle’s emerging Latin-American community, Siman said, “I think people are starting to realize the amazing economic power we have here.”

Siman is a director with the Raleigh nonprofit El Pueblo, which hosted its 20th La Fiesta del Pueblo on Sunday.

An estimated 17,000 people turned out for Sunday’s event, said Angeline Echeverria, executive director of El Pueblo. That’s up from 3,000 the first year, and 10,000 last year.

Many patrons attend the annual event to get a glimpse of the festive dancers and a bite of the Latin fare. But for El Pueblo, the event has also become a key opportunity to connect with Latinos on issues such as education, immigration, health care and politics. And organizers say the group’s mission has become more important as the Triangle’s Hispanic community has grown in the last two decades.

“I get very emotional when I talk about the growth,” said Taty Padilla, a former El Pueblo board member. “We used to meet in people’s houses.”

El Pueblo started with only volunteers who met at a school in Chapel Hill. Now, the nonprofit has a 10-member staff and an office at the State Fairgrounds.

This was the group’s third year holding the festival in Moore Square in downtown Raleigh. El Pueblo representatives sought to talk to Latin Americans and immigrants about improving access to health care, transportation, the local education system and their legal rights.

For instance, Echeverria said, El Pueblo in recent years has talked more and more to women interested in learning about reproductive health. The topic is taboo in many Latin American circles, she said. So El Pueblo’s health workers on Sunday passed out information on subjects such as birth control and visiting an obstetrician.

To measure the festival’s reach, El Pueblo requires vendors to provide statistics on services they provided during the event. For example, El Pueblo asks health care booth operators how many HIV tests they provided.

“We started (gathering statistics) about three years ago,” Siman said. “We can use them for grant writing.”

El Pueblo has its own materials and connections, but the fiesta also includes booths from insurance companies, health care companies, civil rights advocates and others.

Sasha Gibson, a manager with the American Cancer Society, said her group continues to provide information at the fiesta because the Triangle’s Hispanic population grew 110 percent between 2000 and 2010. Gibson said the Cancer Society helps people find primary care physicians.

Access to a clinic is vital, she said, because “otherwise, (an immigrant) might go to the emergency room for something that’s not an emergency, and end up using taxpayer dollars.”

The festival is also a recruiting ground for colleges such as N.C. State University and Appalachian State University.

“And we’re trying to start a Hispanic sorority,” said Aneisy Cardo, a sophomore at Appalachian State.

Aside from offering Latinos information and entertainment, the fiesta also provided a taste of home – an element some said they appreciated the most.

Yvonne Sanchez, who lives in Durham and was working a tamale stand, says she doesn’t get to spend much time with other Hispanics unless she goes to her 80-member church in Garner. Elisa Medina of Dunn was similarly appreciative.

“It’s hard to get in touch with others,” said Medina, who was accompanied by her mother, brother, husband and three daughters.

“It’s fun to just be here,” Medina said. “Sometimes, you’ll see people you haven’t seen in a while.”

The festival provided an opportunity for Pablo Zambrano to share his Venezuelan culture with his 14-year-old son, Pablo Jr., who was born in the United States.

As they sat under an oak tree in Moore Square eating tortas, the elder Zambrano reflected on moving to America in 1979, finding a job as an auto inspector, and ultimately gaining U.S. citizenship five years ago.

“It’s not easy,” Zambrano said. “You go from trying to learn a new language to trying to own your own home. … You need all the help you can get.”

Specht: 919-829-4826

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service