From 1970 to 1989, the annual summer Latino Festival served as a public declaration of the culture and traditions of D.C.’s multi-ethnic Latino community in Mount Pleasant and Adams Morgan. In Creating a Latino Identity in the Nation’s Capital: The Latino Festival, D.C. author Olivia Cadaval chronicles the history of the festival and uses it as both a metaphor and a blueprint for defining this diverse minority culture in the District.
The book comes out of the author’s work with the Latino
community over the past 10 years. “My window has been the
Latino Festival,” says Cadaval, who began work on the book as part of her American studies dissertation at George Washington University. “I very much feel like the book was written together with the communityit’s a story built on newspaper articles, interviews, and my own participation in producing the festival over many years.”
In her work, Cadaval illuminates what she calls the city’s “invisible population” through its grass-roots efforts. She says that the onstage events and behind-the-scenes planning for the festival became training grounds for activists working to assert a sense of place in D.C. and find a voice in the civil rights movement.
“The Latino community learned a lot from the African-American community and the black leadership at the time the festival was started, building on some of the goals of the civil rights movement and taking to the streets…to create a culturally defined living space for itself,” says Cadaval. “This is a population that can really bring together two worldsD.C. and this more transnational society of exiles, refugees, and immigrantswith people coming from different countries, different classes, and different cultural backgrounds to identify with one community in one neighborhood, one barrio.”
In 1989, the Latino Festival was moved to Constitution Avenue, where it remains a vibrant (if less-than-grass-roots) display of polyglot Latino identity. In the aftermath of the ’91 riots in Mount Pleasant, Columbia Heights, and Adams Morgan, Cadaval says, there has been a marked shift among Spanish-speaking immigrants toward focusing on cultural citizenship.
“Now we have a first and second generation of Latinos who were born in D.C., and part of the effort is for them to feel how they connect to this earlier immigrant community,” says Cadaval, who now works with the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife Programs and Cultural Studies. “The dynamic has emerged in this country of difference and diversity as a strength, and D.C. could be a real nice lens for understanding this whole self-identity process in a pluralistic society and determining what being an American is.”Colin Bane
Creating a Latino Identity in the Nation’s Capital: The Latino Festival is available from Garland Press, 47 Runway Rd., Levittown, PA 19057-4700; Call (800) 821-8312, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.