OCCHA’s Latino food fest highlights Hispanic flavors, culture
By Graig Graziosi
The rainy, gray afternoon that beset Youngstown on Saturday provided the perfect excuse for German Navarro and his son to stay inside and indulge in a buffet of homemade Hispanic foods from across the world.
The ethnic feast, the Organizacin Civica y Cultural Hispana Americana's seventh annual International Latino Food Festival, took place at OCCHA’s headquarters on Shirley Road.
The celebration featured international dishes and desserts from six countries and more broadly represented the 22 Spanish-speaking countries in the world – including the United States, which has the second largest population of Spanish speakers in the world after Mexico – and their cultures.
Homemade foods from Mexico, Peru, Spain, Argentina, the Dominican Republic and Cuba were featured, and a large selection of dishes from the Puerto Rican community was also available.
Navarro, a parent engagement coordinator and translator for Youngstown City Schools, said that getting to meet the individuals who actually prepared the food based on their cultures’ recipes made the meals even more enjoyable.
“You can have a conversation with people about the food, and they give you an explanation of the food and what it means to them,” Navarro said. “I don’t know why, but I just enjoy the meal more after we have those talks.”
Some of the dishes featured were tamales from Mexico, paella from Spain, empanadas from Argentina, moro from Cuba, quinoa from Peru, sancocho from the Dominican Republic and alcapurrias from Puerto Rico.
Mary Lou Reyes, OCCHA’s executive director, said the event has steadily been growing since its inception, and she hoped it would double last year’s attendance of 500 people.
The festival was made possible through the work of 30 volunteers, many of whom had been preparing meals since Wednesday.
OCCHA board President Consuelo Mendez said she had been cooking for two days, during which she peeled two cases of bananas and 20 pounds of potatoes for her dishes.
Despite the arduous cooking marathon, she said, the event is a good opportunity to showcase the various Hispanic cultures to the rest of the community.
“It helps us, of course, because it’s a fundraiser, but it’s also a great opportunity for the rest of the community to come and experience these cultures and our food all on the same day and under the same roof,” Mendez said.
Money raised through food sales helps fund OCCHA’s educational programming.