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Latino Heritage Festival

Friday, August 30, 2002 at 4:14 PM

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More Latinos than ever are calling northeast Ohio home. That's one of the reasons Hispanics want their fellow citizens to see them in a positive light. The goal of exposure and education was the idea behind the recent Latino Heritage Festival. It was held at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The museum also used the occasion to honor the contributions of Hispanic artists. ideastream's Mike West has the story.

Mike West: On a bright Sunday morning the waterfront came alive with the sound of Latin music at the Rock Hall. Tourists filed into the triangular building while an old Santana tune provided music between performances of local bands. Meanwhile, while visitors had a chance to enjoy paintings and other works of art by hispanic artists, while the smell of Mexican food filled the air.

Luis Martinez: As you can see we have a beautiful, beautiful art displays. We have performers and we have a lot of volunteers from throughout the community. Children are being given an opportunity to exercise their creative energies and that’s always a lot of fun.

MW: Luis Martinez is the president of Viva Solutions. His company is one of the sponsors of the Latino Heritage Day Festival. Martinez feels the event has a deeper meaning than just a meal and entertainment.

LM: But we want to show too is, we are contributing not only as war veterans, that give your blood and your life for your country but we have educators and we have architects and we have artists so on and so forth.

MW: The event included booths where social workers handed out pamphlets. And a local bank also sponsored the festival and was there to let potential customers know that bi-lingual financial services were available at their west side branch. According to the latest census numbers, Latinos are the fastest growing minority group in the county and in Ohio. Martinez says events like this foster racial harmony and also allow his people to expand their horizons.

LM: Look at the art, look at what has been provided, here were demonstrating art and music because this is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In other places that are able to see sports, whether it be with the Cleveland Indians or the Crunch or whatever. Our youth are involved our youth are wanting to become entrepreneurs, to be responsible people to be good citizens so that we can again, provide and enhance.

MW: Out on the front lawn, about a dozen vehicles sparkle under the blue skies. They’re lined up to form a car show. Visitors check under the hood and run their hands over the interiors while proud owners show off their low riders.

Tito Rodriguez: Looking at a ‘68 Impala convertible with what’s called a 3-pump set up, 8 batteries, a custom white and black interior with a 350-turbo under the hood got a seven color flip-flop paint called chrome illusion, chain link steering wheel, pretty much the whole package…

MW: Tito Rodriguez is a member of the Traditions Car Club for low riders. He admits some people have negative feelings about Latinos in low riders because the media has portrayed them as violent drug dealers who commit crimes while listening to rap music blaring over their car stereos. But he insists that his group is working hard to change their image by supporting charity events and coming to events like this one.

Tito Rodriguez: As far as the gang thing, that’s a thing of the past, that’s a big stereotype that were all trying to break down that wall. There’s other stuff that you can be stereotyped about but it’s a new day and age we have to get past that.

MW: There are now nearly 220,000 Latinos in Ohio. In the city of Cleveland their numbers now make up 7% of the population. Rodriguez says the festival is just what people need to get a look behind the myths and to promote friendship and understanding.

TR: Things like this are good, they open us up to more people in the community to see what we’re trying to do a lot of people, who have that stereotype who have that notion in their mind, to say, whoa look at those guys they’re gang bangers they see us down here hanging out with our family, they see were not doing nothing negative, were all positive down here then it kind of opens up their eyes and their ears to what were doing. The future could only tell how were taken in, you know, hopefully with open arms with the rest of the community.

MW: Latino Heritage Day is part of a community festival series to promote diversity and boost attendance by locals. Events include a world music festival and a rock-and-soul event that highlights African-American music from rap to gospel. Terry Stewart is the president of the museum. He says the programs give minorities a sense of pride and inclusion by acknowledging their contributions to rock and roll.

Terry Stewart: Latin music has always been very influential in american pop music as it was and then has transferred itself rock and roll so we sort of then take the third part being world music, since you can’t ignore all the other influences that came from Europe, South America and all the other parts of the world. And it’s way to reach out to the community to remind them ethnically what role certain group paid in the music and the art form that we celebrate here.

MW: The Rock Hall has been the subject of controversy over exactly what should be considered rock and roll and featured in activities and displays. Stewarts says he’s had many debates over the subject, but feels he owes it to the community to cover a broad range of music.

TS: I’ve always wanted the museum to be a part of social interaction on a lot of levels, and to do that, you have to sort of be out of the mold of this being a classic exhibit and soft of static presentations that most museums are. Through the music and through other programming, education programming, I’m hoping that over time the cumulative effect will be that people will always think about “hey, why don’t we go down to the Rock Hall today to see what’s going on.”

MW: To help reach that goal, the Rock Hall has conducted music symposiums in partnership with Case Western Reserve University, held free concerts and a U.S. stamp unveiling. The museum has also drawn sell-out crowds for concert tapings which air on MTV. To help expose more Latinos to the museum, free passes were handed out a several hispanic businesses and organizations prior to the festival. In Cleveland, Mike West, 90.3.

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