Andina Fest Celebrates Latin Diversity in East Texas

Hosted at the Tyler Rose Garden Center last Saturday, July 15, Andina Fest 2023 honored Latin culture and diversity in Tyler. Attendants from more than 15 Latin countries came together to take part in the second annual celebration. Though this is the second annual Andina Fest, it was the first open to the public, with 220 tickets being sold and attendees traveling from as far as Shreveport and Dallas to take part in the festivities.

Families and friends gather around tables with flags of Latin countries, reminding party-goers of the numerous cultures celebrated at Andina Fest. 📷 all photos by Jude Ratcliff.

“They feel that the Latin world is inviting, welcoming, inclusive and warm. We’re proud of that. We’re proud of who we are, and we want to show that to everyone here,” she said.

“If you are of Latin origin or Latin connection, this is the base that you reconnect with,” Nury Burnett, an Andina Fest organizer hailing from Chile said. “No matter where you’re from, this event is open to everybody. I’ve seen people from different backgrounds coming here today.

Named for the Andes mountain range of South America, Andina Fest promotes the diversity of the different regions of North, Central and South America and the Caribbean, while also establishing ties and fellowship in all the communities of East Texas.

The Houston Batucada drumline performs as openers to the live concert featuring José Luis Canta and Everson Hernández. Their music embraces Brazilian culture, showcased throughout Texas.

The event featured live music from José Luis Canta and Everson Hernández as well as the band Houston Batacuda. Five food stands provided Latin cuisine to attendees, with recipes originating from Venezuela, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Columbia. Organizers also led a Samba dance class, teaching a dancing style from Brazil, and “La Hora Loca,” or “Crazy Hour”   with 40 minutes of uninterrupted  music.

“We bring a lot of Brazilian culture into the festival,” Camilo Araya, a drummer for Houston Batucada said. “We’re showcasing their instruments, their culture and their music. Brazilian culture is very big when it comes to musicality. The different regions have differences in their genres and play differently. We’re trying to showcase that throughout the state of Texas and everywhere.”

Get Baked by Christina LLC offers a wide range of Mexican-inspired cuisine. Andina Fest hosted Latin vendors representing a wide range of countries to offer their culture’s culinary flavors.

A number of locally owned Latino businesses and vendors participated, too. Christina Alvarado, baked goods owner of Get Baked by Christina, said she attended to represent the Mexican community of Tyler at Andina Fest.

“As soon as we found out what it was, we were like, ‘Yeah, we’re definitely gonna do that to represent Hispanics,’” Alvarado said. “I think it’s fun to try things from different cultures and also to see how fun it is whenever we party. Everyone’s super nice and so personable and super friendly. We’re all like family, even though we’re not really related.”

 Burnett, who led public relations for the festival, said she  created Andina Fest when she and her  friends Tahiti Madriz of Venezuela, Nadia Long of Peru and Lorena Rebagliati of Argentina realized just how much they missed their home countries. Though last year’s celebration was a private function, July 15th marked Andina Fest’s first public observation of the event, with another one planned for next year.

Dancers gather to enjoy live music during “La Hora Loca” or “The Crazy Hour,” with 40 minutes of uninterrupted music.

“We have people from Jacksonville, Athens and Longview,” Burnett said. “I talked to a lady that comes from Denton who heard [about Andina Fest] on the news. She drove all the way up just to be here tonight, and that brings us so much joy.” Burnett adds that she hopes to throw a New Year’s Eve party similar to Andina Fest.

Monica Tato’s ¡Viva! Kids offers a wide selection of books in Spanish and English. It is her hope that introducing this literature to bilingual households will foster dialogue about emotions and topics that may be otherwise hard to talk about.

Monica Tato, the CEO of ¡Viva! Kids, offered a wide selection of books written in  Spanish and English to celebrate bilingualism and biculturalism.  Tato said the books from Latin America and Spain help bring a greater sense of emotional communication to children growing up in bilingual households. ¡Viva! Kids also provides a Spanish class to both children and adults online.

An attendee grabs party props and strikes a pose. Towards the end of the night, the Andina Fest organizers made time for photo ops with party favors.

“We love helping families and educators find books that are dedicated to Hispanic culture and also social emotional learning,” Tato said. “This feels fun, to learn how to cope with feelings and having difficult conversations. We provide them, so that way kids have the language and vocabulary to do that.” ¡Viva! Kids currently has over 270 books for sale on their website.

A conga line erupts during the Andina Fest 2023, with dozens of attendants gathering to join. Though the dance originates from Africa, it is commonly practiced in Cuba and North America.

Andina Fest emphasized both the diversity and commonalities of Latin American countries represented in East Texas.“Here in Texas, when you think of Hispanic or Latino, you really don’t see beyond Mexican,” Burnett said. “We love and honor and respect our Mexican friends, but someone from Chile is not the same as Argentina, Brazil or Uruguay. Andina Fest is embracing what unites us but also recognizing what makes us unique. We’re providing that space and time for them.”

Jude Ratcliff is a third year student at the University of Texas at Tyler, where he studies journalism and criminal justice. His passions include reading, chess and photography. It is his hope to use journalism to strengthen the community and uphold democracy and to one day become an investigative reporter while researching prisons and the justice system.

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