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Join us for a morning conversation to hear from those who brought DC’s Latin American Festival to the National Mall in 1989 and 1990.

The History of the First Latin American Festival on the Mall: 1989-1990 is an oral history project that tells the story of how the Latino community took their culture and music downtown to the Mall. These oral histories document the personal narratives of the Festival organizers, focusing on why they decided to take the Festival downtown to the Monument, and how they sought to bring Latino culture, music and food to mainstream America.

The oral histories explore how this community-elected team convinced the National Park Service to approve permits allowing three musical stages on Monument grounds, 200 booths selling Latino and Caribbean homemade food, as well as a Parade of Nations on Constitution Avenue, representing 23 Latin American and Caribbean countries.

Arturo Griffiths and Lois Athey will be joined by narrators Willians Silva, Angel Saltos, Carlos Gonzalez and Jorge Lozano to tell their stories about this historic Latino project.

The panel discussion will take place in Conference Room 401.A at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.

Moderator:

Lois Athey grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. After living many years in Chile, she moved to the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood in 1981. From 1988 through 1990, she was a volunteer with the Latin American Festival. She organized the food booths for all three DC Latino Festivals, and was a member of the team that negotiated permits with the National Park Service for the Washington Monument grounds. She has worked for national non-profit organizations that advocate for low-income housing programs.

Panelists:

Arturo Griffiths immigrated to Washington, D.C. from Panama in 1964. As a teenager, Griffiths was involved with the original DC Latino Festivals held in the Adams Morgan neighborhood. In 1988, he was elected President of the Festival, and he organized the last Festival to be held on Columbia Rd. In 1989 and 1990, his committee moved the Festival to the Washington Monument. Griffiths was a co-founder of the Latin American Youth Center and worked for many years with labor unions. He also helped organize the Save our Cities! Save Our Children! March. In 1992, he planned and coordinated the Citywide Multicultural Leadership Summit. In 2014, together with Latino day laborers, he founded Trabajadores Unidos de Washington DC.

Angel Saltos was born in Quito, Ecuador and moved to the United States in 1980 to study at American University. As a young marketing and business school graduate, he got a job with ABL Associates. The owner, Tensia Alvirez, was Mexican-American, and she owned this small DC Latino public relations firm. Saltos first helped Alvirez organize a raffle for the 1988 Festival. In 1989, Saltos was in charge of securing the musical performances for the 1989 Festival, and he brought Willie Colon to perform in Washington at the Gala dance and at the Sylvan Theater. The 1989 Festival, renamed Fiesta DC, had three stages on the Mall with 14 different musical presentations. Saltos went on to serve as President of the Ricky Martin Foundation.

Carlos Gonzalez, born in Medellin, Colombia, immigrated as a young child with his family to New Holland, Pennsylvania. Gonzalez joined the Navy after high school, but eventually decided to go back to school to study accounting. He received his degree from American University. Right out of school, he was hired by the accounting department at Fannie Mae where he worked for 32 years. He has always done volunteer work in the community, and in 1990, he joined the Latino Festival committee to help plan and coordinate the Fiesta de Gala. In recent years, he has volunteered to coordinate an exchange program that brings young Colombian teens to the US.

Willians Silva, born in Peru, immigrated to Washington, D.C. in 1986. Silva has worked for several DC hotels, including the Watergate. He is active in DC’s local hotel and restaurant union. In 1988 and 1989, he sold homemade Peruvian food at the DC Latino Festival. In 1990, he joined the Festival Committee and volunteered to organize and lead the Parade of Nations that showcased the culture, music and floats of 23 Latin American and Caribbean countries. In 1992, Silva was the founder of BU-GATA, a tenants association in Arlington, Virginia that sponsors a youth leadership program and has held local festivals for many years in the Buckingham neighborhood.

Jorge Lozano immigrated from La Paz, Bolivia to Washington, D.C. in 1970. He got a degree in electronics engineering and has worked for many years in the security industry. But we have known him best as a community activist. Lozano helped with security at the 1989-1990 Latino Festivals. He also helped organize the Washington Metro Bolivian community. For 18 years, Lozano imported beautiful Bolivian handicrafts that he sold at his downtown store located at the Old Post Office Building (now the former Trump Hotel). He would sell his woolen sweaters and scarves at local festivals, including the DC Latino Festival.

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