Organizers of the D.C. Latino Festival said yesterday that they are considering moving the annual July showcase of Hispanic cultures to September, when the weather might be cooler and when it would coincide with Hispanic Heritage Month.
The date change was discussed last year, but it gained momentum after organizers met Monday night with the family of Silverio Paez Moreno, a 53-year-old man who died of a heart attack several hours after he waved his Paraguayan flag in the festival. Family members suspect the scorching heat contributed to his cardiac arrest.
"He was so happy to be in the festival and hold his flag," said Nidia Estigarribia, Paez Moreno's sister who lives in Rockville. "But it was very hot. When this happens, you want to blame everybody. We know we can't do that. But I think it would be better if they moved the festival to when the weather isn't as bad."
About 100 festivals are held during summer months, and heat is always a concern, D.C. police Cmdr. Michael Radzilowski said.
"We advise organizations to bring lots of water," Radzilowski said. "But it's really up to them when they want to hold their festivals."
The tradition of the two-day Latino Festival started 29 years ago. It was first held during the last week of July 1970 to celebrate then-Mayor Walter Washington's formation of a 15-member group of Latino advisers, what is now the Mayor's Office of Latino Affairs.
It was also scheduled in the summer because it was a good time to socialize.
"We don't all have cars. We can't go to a mall or get out of town like others. So we thought this was a good opportunity to get together," said Elena Rocha, vice president of the festival. "But I agree fully with moving it."
On Aug. 22 of last year, Eduardo Perdomo, president of the D.C. Latino Festival, died of cardiac arrest. His son, Carlos Perdomo, one of two presidents of the festival this year, said his father pushed himself hard to organize the event. He said the heat also may have been a contributing factor in his father's death.
"I know what that family is going through right now," Perdomo said. "When I was first elected, I brought up moving the date. All around it made sense to me."
Although organizers, including Francisco Pizzi, the festival's other president, agreed yesterday that it could be a good idea, ultimate consensus may be sticky. Feuding among the festival leadership, including arguments over the structure of the festival, has weakened the event's ability to be a unifying force in the city's Latino community.
"The date has been a long tradition." said Arturo Griffiths Jr., a longtime festival organizer. "We will have to see if everyone agrees."