Julio Del Castillo is a warm, outgoing and energetic man who splits his time between family, work and service, and is enormously proud of his Latino heritage. Though born in Peru to Peruvian and Bolivian parents, Del Castillo, president of Jackson's Latin American Business Association, LABA-Link, considers Mississippi home. "I've lived in Jackson since 1993," Del Castillo says.
During his near two decades of residency, he and his wife, who hails from the Czech Republic, have raised three children. In addition to being the president of LABA-Link, Del Castillo is one of a few bilingual speakers employed by the state government. He works in the Human Services Department, Division of Child Support Enforcement, specifically with Latin and Spanish-speaking populations.
Del Castillo and his colleagues at LABA-Link are happy to continue the tradition of celebrating Hispanic culture by hosting LatinFest 2012 Saturday, Sept. 2. The Mississippi Hispanic Association has hosted a similar festival in the past, but Jackson has been without a Latino or Hispanic festival for a couple of years, he says.
LatinFest, held at the Mississippi Craft Center in Ridgeland, will bring together friends, families, businesses and the community to share the wealth and diversity of Latin America and the Caribbean—while keeping a bit of Mississippi style.
"The festival is a good way for students and church missionary organizations to learn about life in Latin America, and to find out what the conditions are in various countries," Del Castillo says. But the festival is more than just an educational opportunity. LABA-Link and the festival's sponsors invite the entire community to jump in and enjoy all the essentials of a fiesta: music, dance, art, food, family and fun.
LatinFest is also a means to serve the broader community and benefit one of LABA-Link's strategic partners, the American Red Cross. A portion of the proceeds generated at the festival will be donated to support the charitable work of the national organization that provides disaster relief, supports military families, offers training and education, collects life-saving blood donations and offers international relief services.
"LABA-Link began its partnership with the Red Cross in 2011 with the formation and training of a bilingual corps of volunteers," Del Castillo says.
In the event of an emergency involving Latinos living in the state of Mississippi, the bilingual corps stands ready to do their part in Red Cross' disaster aid and relief efforts. More information about LABA-Link and its partners will be available at the festival. "We are trying to get people's attention," Del Castillo says. "We hope to encourage networking and information sharing."
LatinFest features a diverse music and entertainment line-up that includes jazz singer Pam Confer, cellist Marcelo Vieira and Latin jazz singer Patricia Cuenca. There will be a dance performance and dance class for participants by Salsa Therapy Dance Academy. In between the performances, Latin DJs will keep the party going. Special guest speakers for the afternoon are Ridgeland's mayor, Gene McGee, and Sandra Hodge, CEO of the Mississippi American Red Cross.
The festival also promises to be a great day for foodies and epicureans. Festival-
goers are invited to sample the many flavors of Latin American cuisine. Vendors will offer comida y refrescos (food and refreshments) from 15 different countries including Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Chile, Argentina and Brazil. Children are welcome to join the party to enjoy face painting, kid's games and a bounce house.
LatinFest is Sunday, Sept. 2, from 2-6 p.m. at the Mississippi Craft Center (950 Rice Road, Ridgeland, 601-856-7546). Admission is $7 for adults, $3 for children aged 3-10, free for kids younger than 3. Admission includes free food samples. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.