Performers, attendees call Hispanic festival a success

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Jorge Cortes performs at Elizabeth City State University's Hispanic Heritage Festival in the R.L. Vaughan Center, Saturday afternoon.

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Monday, October 15, 2018

Both performers and attendees said they had a good time at Elizabeth City State University’s inaugural Hispanic Heritage Festival on Saturday.

Designed as an event to bridge the area’s Hispanic and non-Hispanic communities, the festival at the R.L. Vaughan Center featured Hispanic entertainers, face-painting for children and a mini-expo of Hispanic and non-Hispanic vendors.

Jaime Baron, a business counselor and consultant with ECSU’s Small Business and Technology Development Center, was among the festival’s organizers. He said ECSU was chosen as the venue because the university’s census shows it now has 68 students who identify as Hispanic.

Baron, a Camden County resident of Mexican heritage, noted there are lots of different cultures in the Hispanic world, from Mexican and Puerto Rican to Dominican.

"Everybody has a little bit of culture to bring to the table, some a little different, some similar," Baron said.

Among the performers sharing both their talent as well as their Hispanic culture at Saturday’s event was Jorge Cortes, a singer of romantic ballads.

Interviewed with the help of a translator, Cortes said he was impressed with ECSU’s first-ever Hispanic Heritage Festival and said he’d like to return to a future event.

Asked what he likes most about performing in front of audiences, Cortes said, "Seeing the enjoyment of the people in the audience who are following me, listening to me. That gives me more strength and passion. And it makes everything much more sweet." 

Although Cortes now lives in Newport News, he’s originally from Puerto Rico and was living there with two aunts when Hurricane Maria struck in September 2017.

As a result of the devastation from Maria, Cortes said he lost his job as a professional singer as well as jobs in musical theater and at a recording studio. He said he decided to move to Virginia after two relatives invited him to come live with them. 

Impressionist and dance instructor Keren Maceira, who also performed at Saturday's event, also seemed impressed with ECSU’s first Hispanic festival.

“It was pretty cool,” she said. “And the people are super nice.”

Maceira, who's also of Puerto Rican heritage, has lived in Virginia Beach for the past six years. A performer with the Shrine Circus, she, too, said she’d like to return to future Hispanic festival at ECSU.

Attendees also seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Tony Midgette, an ECSU alumnus who lives in Creedmoor, said he found out about the festival while visiting Elizabeth City on Saturday.

Midgette said Granville County, where Creedmoor is located, has a growing Hispanic population. Eight percent of Granville's estimated 2017 population of 59,557 was Hispanic.

Midgette, who teaches strength and conditioning and physical education at J.F. Webb High School in Oxford, said he has a number of students who would have “definitely loved to come” to the festival. Asked if a Hispanic festival is something he’d like to see in Granville, he said, “I think it would great anywhere in the state of North Carolina."

The number of Hispanic cultural festivals likely will grow in the state. According to the University of North Carolina's Population Center, the state's Hispanic population in 2017 was nearing 1 million. That’s compared to 1990 when the Hispanic population in North Carolina was 75,000 and 2010, when it was 800,000.

Between 2010 and 2016, the state's Hispanic population grew by 132,000 new residents, a 16.5 percent increase. That compares to a 13.9 percent increase nationwide.

According to the U.S. Census, 5.4 percent of Pasquotank County's 2017 population of 39,743 was Hispanic.

Baron, a member of ECSU’s Community and Campus Latino Resource Team, noted Hispanics already play key roles in the local economy.

"Right now, in this area, you see a lot of agricultural workers here, strongly supporting the economy," he said.

Hispanics also shop locally, spending their dollars at stores and restaurants.

"So, there's an economic impact," Baron said.

Mexican restaurants, typically owned and operated by Hispanics, also generate tax revenues for local governments.

"What they do bring is innovation, hard-working people who are another market that's already here," he said.