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Bienvenidos a los Berkshires

By Evan Triantafilidis

Celebrating her Hispanic heritage is nothing new for Liliana Ortiz-Bermudez.

When her oldest daughter, Angela, was in preschool, the Columbian native brought a taste of her culture to the class, demonstrating Latin dance, while getting the class involved.

Since then, Ortiz-Bermudez has been organizing the Festival Latino of the Berkshires as part of Lee’s annual Founders Weekend. But this year, due to the festival’s growth and popularity, the event has a new host in Great Barrington for its 24th anniversary.

Taking place during Hispanic Heritage Month, the festival will be held on Saturday, Sept. 28 at the Town Hall Green Park and at St. James Place on Main Street. Ongoing from noon to 6 p.m., the festival is free of charge and open to the public.

Part of the draw to hold the event in Great Barrington, organizers say, is the ability to have a bigger stage to feature performances that weren’t able to attend while the festival was held in Lee.
As the festival has grown over the years, Ortiz-Bermudez’s daughter, Angela, now 27, has become more involved in organizing the yearly celebration.

“Moving to a bigger stage at St. James, with light production … it shows that even if we are a small organization, we still execute,” said Angela. “We’re growing and Great Barrington is just a better space and area for us.”

Hispanic festivals she attended growing up were often just a band playing and a few vendors, said Angela. Now as an organizer of the event with her mom, she said she sees the all-day event as a way to celebrate the culture of all 22 Spanish-speaking countries.

“We are specific to educate about the Hispanic heritage for each country,” said Angela.

Now working in Albany, Angela helps make the event family-friendly by connecting local schools to the festival as an educational opportunity. In past years, Ortiz-Bermudez recalls students practicing their Spanish while they sample ethnic dishes from various food vendors.

This year, students are encouraged to practice their having casual conversations in Spanish at the “Hablemos Español” table at 1 p.m. with Cristina Velez, Spanish teacher for Pittsfield-based Miss Hall’s School.

Beginning at noon, the Latin American cuisine vendors will start serving dishes from Central and Southern America that include chorizos, empanadas, tamales and burritos.

The two featured dance companies showcasing their Latin roots on stage at St. James Place are New York-based dance groups Calpulli Mexican Dance Company and TUMBAGA.

Outside on the gazebo, local performers scheduled to take part in the celebration include Berkshire Latin United, Williams College Ritmo and Pittsfield’s Guadalupenos as well as D.J. Bernardino.

With the help of Ruby Maldonado, Gabriela Cruz and Deisy Escobar, organizers of Festival Latino of the Berkshires, a social services booth will be set up in front of the Town Hall. The festival will continue at 9 p.m. with a Gala Dance Party at Eastover’s Tally-Ho Hall, at 430 East St. in Lenox.
Headlining the gala will be the Latin-themed group Balantika, based out of New York City, led by singer John Balanta.

The annual fundraising event for Festival Latino of the Berkshires will also feature classic salsa music, Caribbean tropical cumbias, Merengue. Also to be held at the gala is a tribute to Pastor López, a Venezuelan singer who died in April.

Ortiz-Bermudez hopes that the festival will bring the Latino community together to take pride in their heritage.“We made this flavor contagious to others,” she said.

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