“I made one call: Robert,” said Griffith, 52. “This was a huge problem. The country only turns 50 once, and we really worried about being humiliated.
“But Robert fixed it.”
Think you’re busy? Meet Robert Jimenez. He’s the go-to organizer for Washington’s year-round roster of ethnic holiday celebrations and festivals — from the Punjabi South Asian Mela in Centreville to the Peruvian Independence Day celebration in Arlington County.
Jimenez is a man obsessed with sound equipment and portable toilets. Here he is on a recent blustery winter morning, all in black, his arms filled with food permits and health code printouts as he leads a group of organizers across a rock-strewn Hyattsville field that will soon be the site of the Latin music festival they’ve dreamed of hosting here for years. He flips open his laptop in the field. “We can have a stage here. The Porta Potties there. It will be the event of the year. We can make it wonderful.”
Like wedding planners, Jimenez wants to create events free of drama and disappointment. And with plenty of parking. Whether it be Korean New Year in McLean or a Salvadoran festival in Hyattsville, he’s preoccupied with potential glitches. “I sleep about three hours a night,” said Jimenez, 45, ordering a triple shot of espresso at a Panera in Silver Spring on a recent morning. “Any number of things can go wrong. The thing is, ethnic festivals have become that particular community’s moment to shine. So the stakes are high.”
Laptop open in front of him, Jimenez was planning the area’s first Dominican festival as well as the also-new Puerto Rican festival. “I multitask festivals and work like three at a time,” he said.
Jimenez, who is compact with buzz-cut black hair, seems to be perpetually opening his laptop or rummaging in his binder for fairground rules, food permits, festival insurance policies, lists of fire-department contacts and maps of parks. He keeps battered folders filled with the endless paperwork that anyone who plans to pull off an event for 10,000 people must file.
“He’s just a very unique hybrid that’s very specific to Washington because we have so many ethnic festivals,” Griffith said. “I’ve never worked with anyone who has crossed so many ethnic groups. I mean, he works with everyone. And to work with them all, at some point, you have to understand them.”
He knows, for instance, that Caribbean music needs a lot of bass vs. Latin music, which requires more midrange levels for horns and percussion. He orders the right speakers and adjusts the sound system before event organizers even ask.