“The festival is a celebration of our heritage that we want to share with the community at large,” said co-organizer Sila Alegret-Bartel. “We have been blessed with a beautiful day again this year, so we are excited.”
This year’s festival included more than 50 tables, a variety of food vendors, live music and a soccer tournament. Proceeds from the event are used to fund scholarships for Hispanic students at Hagerstown Community College.
Blanca Quezada, 18, of Hagerstown, was one of the students who received the scholarship last semester. She applied it toward her classes to become a pharmacy technician.
“It helped a lot, ’cuz we were struggling to pay for it,” she said.
Quezada said she starts work next month at Meritus Medical Center.
Another two recipients of the Hispanic Association’s scholarship were a mother and son, Maritza Montano, 47, of Hagerstown, and her son, Miguel Montano, 20, who each received $500 for summer courses this year.
Maritza used the money to complete a prerequisite for Frostburg State University’s Master of the Arts in Teaching program, which she is now completing at the University System of Maryland campus in Hagerstown. She is completing the program at an accelerated pace and hopes to graduate in May, then begin teaching elementary school in Washington County.
Miguel is a junior this year at Frostburg, where he is majoring in electrical engineering with a minor in Spanish. He used the HCC scholarship to take a chemistry course over the summer that he was able to count toward his degree requirements.
Maritza said she came to the United States from El Salvador in 1977 and moved to Hagerstown in 1997. Miguel remembers that when they first moved to Hagerstown there were very few Hispanics in town.
“I was probably the only one in my classes ... and because of that, it made it more difficult for me to know the language, to understand the culture,” Miguel said.
Today, the Hispanic population in Hagerstown has grown, and events like the Hispanic Festival help the area’s Hispanic residents share their heritage not only with those of other cultures, but also within their own families, organizers said.
“One of the reasons I wanted to start this is I have an 8-year-old who was born here in Hagerstown, and although he is Colombian through blood, I want to make sure he learns a little bit about his culture,” said Diana Reyes, who helped start the festival after attending a similar event in Frederick, Md.