It has been 13 years since Jose Roig moved out of "el barrio," Washington's Latino neighborhood off Columbia Road NW, to take a job in suburban Virginia, but each year the city's Hispanic Heritage Festival finds him back in his old neighborhood. He hasn't missed a single festival.
"I practically know every person here. The fact that I've moved out of the barrio doesn't preclude me from remembering all my old friends," said Roig, who came to Washington after leaving Cuba in 1962 and lived for six years in an apartment just a few blocks away from Kalorama Park, off Columbia Road, where the festival is held each year.
Yesterday was a day not just for remembering one's friends, but one's country and customs as well, as Washington once again savored the taste of life Latin-American style. It was there in the food, including pupusas [toasted cheese pancakes] from El Salvador and hornado (roast pork) from Ecuador. It was there, too, in the pulsating salsa music booming from portable stereo radios and in the ever-present flow of Spanish spoken in accents as special to each country as its food.
D.C. police estimated that by late afternoon about 4,000 persons had moved past the rows of kiosks set up in the park to sell Latin American food, T-shirts that read "United Latin American" and buttons that said, "Kiss Me I'm Spanish." The festival will continue today with a parade of floats through the Adams-Morgan community and folk dances.
The festival, which has grown each year, has also become a traditional way of gauging the changes that have come to the area's Latino community and the issues that are of interest to it. This year, those issues centered on the Reagan administration's social policies, as workers handed out flyers announcing a "Dia De Solidaridad" [Solidarity Day] protest march Sept. 19.
There was also plenty of literature in Spanish and English critical of President Reagan's proposed immigration law changes that would allow some current illegal aliens to continue to work and pay taxes here, but receive no government benefits. One local Hispanic leader predicted that the policy would lead to "political and economy slavery" for immigrants.
But most of the participants focused their attention on the merriment. "For 11 years I have been coming here. What brings me back is the music, the food and the pretty senoritas," said Metro employee Humberto Cabrera, who is from Ecuador.
Tired of eating spaghetti, steak and frozen pizza at home, 21-year-old Marco Reguerin said he comes each year to eat the kind of food, like fricase, a soup with pork, corn and dried potatoes from the Andes region, that he remembers from his native Bolivia.
"We don't eat Bolivian food a lot because you can't always get the ingredients," said Reguerin, who does remodeling work in Fairfax County. He said his wife's aunt had to "smuggle in" some dried potatoes from the Andes region and they found their way into the fricase being sold yesterday at the Bolivia kiosk at the festival.
Washington's Hispanic community, which local Latino officials say numbers 70,000, is comprised of people with a variety of nationalities, although about half of them are from El Salvador. The rest are from Mexico, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, cuba and Puerto Rico.
Such ethnic variety has sometimes led to divisiveness within the community. But when it's festival time, said 17-year-old Eugenia Cisneros of Ecuador, "All Latin Americans in the city can get together and love each other even if it's once a year."