Suburbanites and Sandinistas, dishwashers and diplomats - an estimated 60,000 people in all - poured into Adams-Morgan yesterday for the ninth annual Hispanic American Festival.
Heavy Latin rhythms reverberated along Columbia Road. Women in elaborate hoop skirts with spectacular headdresses and others in scanty belly-dance costumes with golden glitter around their eyes, sambaed along the parade route.
"The Brazilians are always the life of the party," laughed one shimmying bystander.
There were gauchos and Incas, actors and singers, even maids from the Domestics' Association cooking and cleaning in the back of a pickup truck.
But the crowd's biggest cheers were reserved for the Nicaraguans - Sandinistas and their supporters who overthrew the 46-year Somoza dictatorship earlier this month. "Viva Nicaragua Libre" - long live free Nicaragua - shouted the marchers. Again and again the crowd shouted back "Viva! Viva!"
Not even the afternoon's occasional downpours could dampen the high-spirited celebration. A few umbrellas appeared, but most people ignored the rain and concentrated on the wide array of foods available from concession stands in Kalorama Park.
Even here the Sandinistas were well represented. Above one booth was pinned the red and black flag of the Sandinista National Liberation Front. At another the yound women serving slices of steak said the meat had been "liberated" from the former embassy residence of former Nicaraguan ambassador Guillermo Sevilla-Sacasa.
Saul Arana, a Nicaraguan who has been active in Washington's Hispanic community for years and is now the new Nicaraguan government's charge d'affaires here, was busily shaking hands with old friends. But he was careful not to overplay politics in the midst of such freewheeling festivities.
"Once a year all the Latinos have the opportunity to get together," Arana said, sipping a beer. "Here we learn to work together, to get more consciousness of our role in this country - our contributions to its culture, as workers and as citizens - and to get more...visible."
Yesterday's festival was the biggest ever, its crowds swelled not just by members of Washington's growing Hispanic communities but by people from all kinds of backgrounds and all over the metropolitan area attracted to the festival's cacophonous carnival atmosphere. "Es mejor en Espanol" read one girl's T-shirt. It's better in Spanish. CAPTION: Picture, Brazilian percussionists entertain the crowd at yesterday's Hispanic American Festival parade. By Vanessa R. Barnes - The Washington Post