The time I spent immersed in the Puerto Rican community on Youngstown's East and South sides from the mid-1970s until the mid-1990s allowed me to get a close-up view of a proud culture, one based on hard work and love of family, and primarily rooted in the Catholic church.
When I was single, I dined and enjoyed many laughs at the homes of the Garcia, Andujar, Ocasio, Calderon, Medina, Mercado, Cruz, Sandoval, Rodriguez, Fuentes, Santiago, Diaz and Valentin families.
I was a yearly fixture at the St. Rose of Lima festivals, where the smell of roast pig over an open spit still conjures up wonderful mouth-watering memories.
Three years ago, Hispanics or Latinos passed black Americans as the largest racial or ethnic minority group in the United States. There are nearly 40 million people of Hispanic descent living in our country, and this month begins Hispanic Heritage Month.
As such, Youngstown State University and the Organizacion Civica y Cultural Hispana Americana have several events slated to celebrate the contributions of Hispanics.
Heritage conference at Kilcawley Center
Dr. Jesus "Chuy" Negrete will be the keynote speaker and performer during the Hispanic Heritage Conference on Sept. 15 at Youngstown State University, according to a release sent by Susan M. Moorer, coordinator of diversity initiatives with YSU's Office of Equal Opportunity & amp; Diversity.
The conference, which will be at 5:30 p.m. in the Chestnut Room at Kilcawley Center, is the major event for the area's observance of Hispanic Heritage Month, which is from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. The conference theme this year is "Celebrando." Participants can park free in the M-1 Parking Deck on Wick Avenue.
The conference will include a flag ceremony with area Hispanic schoolchildren displaying heritage flags from 22 Hispanic countries, dance presentations, recognition of achievement in the local Hispanic community, awards presentations and refreshments.
Negrete performs traditional corridos, the folk music of his native Mexico. The son of migrant farm workers who later settled in Chicago, Negrete went on to become one of the nation's foremost musicologists and interpreters at Mexican Cultural Institute in Chicago and has performed at universities nationwide.
Other events celebrating the Hispanic culture
In addition to the conference, there are a number of community events also taking place. If you get a chance, check them out:
A Spanish cooking class at the Davis Center in Fellows Riverside Gardens hosted by Chef Adam from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Sept. 20. The cost is $25 for Friends of the Gardens and $32 for nonmembers. Individuals wishing to register should contact Anita Wesler at (330) 740-7116, Ext. 203.
"Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo" by Hayden Herrera, facilitated by Jean Engle, YSU's assistant director of marketing and communications. Kahlo, who died in 1954, was a renowned Mexican painter. The discussion begins at 6 p.m. Sept. 21 at the Public Library of Youngstown & amp; Mahoning County, 305 Wick Ave. For registration information, contact Deborah Liptak in the development office, (330) 744-8636, Ext. 118.
The 2006 Educators and Community Helping Hispanics Onward College Fair, sponsored by YSU's Undergraduate Admissions department, will be from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Sept. 28 at OCCHA, 3660 Shirley Road, Youngstown. This is an informational college program to assist Hispanic/Latino students and their parents.
The Children's Museum of the Valley, 139 E. Boardman St., Youngstown, will host an arts and crafts and story time session in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. The time is 5 to 8 p.m. Oct. 4.
OCCHA, the city's primary Hispanic social service agency, hosts its 34th anniversary fundraiser dinner Oct. 20 at Mr. Anthony's, 7440 South Ave., Boardman. Social hour begins at 5:30 p.m., and the dinner and awards ceremony follows at 6:30. Music provided by Noel Quintana & amp; the Latin Crew and "DJ" Chico. Tickets are $35 per person. Chinese and silent auctions also are featured. For more information, contact OCCHA at (330) 781-1808.