David J. Ruiz: Festival celebrates contributions of Latino community

Published: Saturday, September 14, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 9:37 p.m.

Annually, Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 to celebrate the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens who trace their ancestors from Mexico, Spain, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

Hispanic Heritage Week began under President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 and was expanded under President Ronald Reagan to encompass a 30-day period. It was enacted into law on Aug. 17, 1988.

Sept. 15 is chosen as the start date because of its significance as the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on Sept. 16 and Sept. 18, respectively.

Hispanic-Latinos are now the largest racial minority in the U.S., comprising roughly 50.5 million (about 16.3 percent of the total U.S. population). Census Bureau data project that the Hispanic population as of July 1, 2050, will be 132.8 million, or 30 percent of the total population. According to the data, there was a 43 percent increase from April 1, 2000, and April 1, 2010, making Hispanics the fastest-growing minority group.

The Hispanic-Latino population in Florida is the third largest in the nation. Florida's Hispanic community represents 16 percent of the eligible voters.

The Hispanic-Latino group is not monolithic and made up of many cultures within the Hispanic-Latino category. Cubans represent 32 percent of Florida's eligible Hispanic voters, whereas Puerto Ricans comprise 28 percent and Mexicans are 9 percent. Taking a different view, the nation's Hispanic-Latino voting demographics are 59 percent Mexican, 14 percent Puerto Rican, and 5 percent Cuban, according to the Center for American Progress.

The Chamber of Hispanic Affairs in Gainesville cordially invites you to our most notable program, known as the annual Downtown Latino Festival. It takes place at the Downtown Community Plaza every September during National Hispanic Heritage Month. This year the 12th annual Downtown Latino Festival is taking place Sept. 28 from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The family-friendly celebration attracts vendors and community members from all over North Florida. The purpose of the festival is to celebrate the positive contributions and achievements of the Latino community. It is a chance for Gainesville to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with the Chamber of Hispanic Affairs.

We also strive to connect the Hispanic population and greater community to resources such as health awareness, disease testing, non-profits, community resources, etc. The festival's attendance has usually been between 1,000 to 3,000-plus people every year.

The event consists of food vendors, informational booths, cultural performances, live music, etc. The festival is free and open to the public. We cordially invite the entire community to enjoy this community celebration.

David J. Ruiz is director of the 12th annual Downtown Latino Festival. For more information on the festival, email chamberofhispanicaffairs@gmail.com.

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