Updated Aug 16, 2018, at 1:13 PM
WORCESTER — With the 28th Latin American Festival coming up Saturday, the event may have “crossed” certain unifying and fun thresholds.
On the one hand, besides drawing thousands of people of Latin American heritage, “every year we’re getting more Americans to show for the festival,” said festival co-coordinator Delio Fernandez.
So it could be called a crossover event.
Except, “I don’t think there’s crossover anymore in Worcester. We’re one in Worcester,” Fernandez said. “Americans know how to ask for their favorite (Latin) food. They know how to dance the Merengue. You see Americans dancing salsa in the crowd. This is Worcester being Worcester.”
The free event will run from noon to 9 p.m. Saturday outdoors at the Worcester Common Plaza behind City Hall. Over the years it has become one of the largest festivals of its kind in New England and is also one of the most popular single-day happenings in Worcester, with music (including internationally known headliners), dance, arts and crafts, food vendors, a beer garden, children’s activities and more. Saturday’s lineup includes Grammy Award-nominated Puerto Rican singer Ismael Miranda (also known as “El Niño Bonito de la Salsa”) at 7:30 p.m. and the Grammy-nominated Dominican Republic merengue singer Bonny Cepeda (“El Mandamás”) at 5:15 p.m.
“The festival is amazing. The crowd is very exciting,” said Venezuelan-born bachata singer and musician Alexander Faria of Boston, who will be making a return appearance at 4:50 p.m.
This year the festival is being dedicated to Venezuela as the country continues to face its internal troubles (“Honoring to Venezuela” 3:30 to 3:45 p.m.), and the event will also have a tribute to Puerto Rico (7 to 7:20 p.m.), where the ravages from last year’s Hurricane Maria are still very present.
The event is presented by CENTRO (formerly known as Centro Las Americas), a multiservice, nonprofit Latino organization.
Fernandez, outreach coordinator, and marketing specialist for CENTRO, said Worcester has a significant population of people of Puerto Rican heritage, and a number of new clients at the agency have come over here from Puerto Rico after the hurricane.
“So many come to CENTRO, I think it’s just right to say you’re not alone in this fight,” Fernandez said. Others in the community have also offered support. “This city is beautiful. When anything happens to anyone, we all jump in.”
CENTRO is helping to organize a shoe collection for people in Venezuela as a shoe shortage has become one of the consequences of the country’s economic collapse. “That’s one of the biggest things that people need,” Fernandez said.
There is also a Venezuelan population in Worcester. “There is, but they’re very quiet,” Fernandez said. However, CENTRO also put Venezuela in the focus at its annual Latino Film Festival in April at Clark University. The festival showcased three films by independent producers. The festival went well and many Venezuelans attended. At a special reception attended by over 100 people, there was both “dancing and a lot of people in tears,” Fernandez said.
Faria will begin his performance by singing the Venezuelan national anthem.
“I love my country. They’re having a very hard time,” he said.
President Nicolas Maduro, who succeeded Hugo Chavez after his death in 2013, was reelected in May but the legitimacy of the election has been questioned by many. President Maduro recently survived what was apparently an assassination attempt via a drone. Meanwhile, the country continues to endure hyperinflation, economic contraction, imploding oil output, hunger, and emigration.
He has been in this country 23 years and lived for a while in Sturbridge, and said he knows the Worcester area well. Faria has a 13-piece orchestra but will be performing solo at the festival on Saturday. He previously performed at the festival in 2004, 2008 and 2011.
“I love this city. Not only the festival, but I love this city. I have a lot of memories,” he said.
Faria said he’s making a full-time living as a singer and musician. His international repertoire includes songs from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and a recent striking recording of “Hotel California” by the Eagles. “How Can I Tell You,” which he’ll also perform Saturday, is a traditional Venezuelan romantic song, very moving but with a bachata beat to it.
“He’s a natural,” said Fernandez.
Faria has a few other upcoming appearances in Worcester, Fernandez noted. “So Worcester loves Alexander as well.”
This year’s festival will also include a bachata dance lesson (12:30 to 12:50 p.m.), more food vendors than before, raffles and good weather, according to Fernandez.
Twenty-three of the previous Latin American festivals were coordinated by Carmen D. “Dolly” Vazquez before she retired after the 2015 event.
“She’s still around (for advice),” Fernandez said.
This year’s festival is the third he’s co-coordinated, this time with Stephanie Puente, CENTRO marketing coordinator, and Tina Velazquez, CENTRO VP, and chief compliance officer.
Worcester Police estimated that the festival last year drew 14,000 to 15,000 people during the course of the day, Fernandez said.
For Saturday, “we’re hoping with the big population from Puerto Rico that came in we might be looking at record breaking (attendance) between noon and 9 p.m. — 15,000 to 20,000. I think that’s possible.”
As for crossing the fun quotient, last year’s event “was really, really fun. And I don’t think this year is gonna be any less than that,” Fernandez said.
28th Latin American Festival
When: Noon to 9 p.m. Aug. 18
Where: Worcester Common Plaza
How much: Free