Ten-year-old Diana Montero swung the pool cue as hard as she could, but the bikini-clad purple elephant slipped away. "Al la derecha!" (To the right!") screamed the circle of children around the blindfolded girl. "Ahora!" (Now!") Behind You!" shouted the same children, switching to English.
Montero took a swing worthy of Roberto Clemente and the papier mache pinata burst apart, pouring bubble gum and baloons all over the ground where scores of Spanish-American children scrambled to retrieve them.
Though a tow-headed boy walking through the park at 16th Street and Colorado Road NW yesterday was baffled by the goings on, pinata was a game most of the children gathered there knew well. It is part of their Hispanic heritage, and a natural part of the activities for children scheduled as part of this week's Hispanic American Festival.
The festival's organizers said their aim is to bring together some of the 50,000 Latinos they estimate are in the Washington area, to celebrate the cultures' of the more than 23 countries that share the Spanish language, and to discuss their mutual problems as Hispanies in an "Anglo" society.
For many, including the children, such discussion reveal a mixture of anxiety and pride.
After gathering as much as candy as they could from the broken pinata, Diana Montero and her older sister Maria sat with some of their girlfriends talking to a reporter. They were both born in Washington to a Dominican father and a Cuban mother.
"When I first started going to kindergarten I was teased," said Maria. "But my mother said don't listen to them. You should be proud you speak two languages."
And Maria Montero is proud. "I like America a lot," she said, "but I would like the chance to be Dominican or Cuban."
"I'm glad, I wasn't born nowhere else but here," interrupted Mirna Valle, whose parents are Cuban. "I'd probably have an accident - I mean an accent."
I'd like to have an accent," replied Maria. If I was Dominican I would have more culture. They like to dance a lot, and they have the merengue and stuff." Disco was much on the minds of these 11-year-old girls. I dance it a little bit, but I don't have all the moves right," Maria said. But if I was Cuban I'd really shake."
The images many of the children had of the countries where they or their parents were born often combined, elements of romance, fear, and a certain pragmatism.
The Monteros' Cuban uncle was sent to fight in the war in Angola. They have seen pictures of their impoverished grandparents in the Dominican Republic. "It's really a shame when you see them," said Maria. "They're so poor and so skinny. They go around without any shoes on."
Many of the children said that people don't fight in their home countries the way they fight here, and they don't steal the way they do here. "I would like to live in a country," said one little girl, "where I could leave the doors open all the time."
A 12-year-old girl from Guatemala, who came to the United States three years ago, had a different image of her country. For seven years she had lived with an uncle, because her mother was working in the United States and her father was dead. She said she never knew him.
"My mother said he went away - they took him," she said, though she did not seem to have a clear idea of who "they" were. "It was two months and he died." She made a sound like a machine gun.
Though their circumstances are usually less extreme, many Hispanic children suffer from the division of their families.
Father Ronald Carillo of the Spanish Catholic Center estimates that about half the children in the center's programs have only one parent living in the United States.
"A lot of their fathers and mothers come to this country," establish themselves and establish other families," Carrillo said. "Then after they become permanent residents (under U.S. immigration law) they request their children from their home countries. Many times these kids have no orientation here at all. They are put aside by the new family."
Even in the most stable families, however, many Hispanic parents worry about the influences of American society on their children.
"They are very afraid," said Javier Garcete, also of the Catholic Center, "about the whole future we have in America - the drugs, the violence. We tend to get involved (in these things) easier in this country. The chances are more."
For parents raised in the devout Catholic environment of Latin America, there may be fears for their daughters in the "liberated" atmosphere of today's Washington.
"My mother tells me not to walk down the street because there are men who stand out there in shorts and they say things and, you know," complained one girl.
"Spanish people say girls can't have boyfriends until they're 16," muttered another.
"But some of them," added a third, "are sensible."