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Text and photos by Connie Leinbach
“Fantastico!” was on the lips of those who attended the first annual Festival Latino de Ocracoke on Saturday at the Ocracoke School.
Islanders sampled the food and drink of Mexico under sunny but windy skies they watched the Mariachi Espuelas de America of Washington, Beaufort County, perform in the school circle.
“It’s kind of perfect timing,” said Jubal Creech, an island musician, about the turnout and the event. “More than ever, we need to work together to learn about each other’s cultures.”
The festival, organized by a committee headed by Freddy Contreras under the auspices of Ocracoke Alive, came on the heals of a contentious national presidential campaign and election after which many immigrants of all stripes are feeling wary.
“I think this brings up the morale in the community,” said Janille Turner, co-owner of Ocracoke Oyster Company. “I think this is wonderful.”
Saturday’s day-long festivities capped a week of activities that included workshops in Latin dance and making piñatas and tortillas.
Along with booths of festival souvenirs and Mexican handicrafts were several food stands. The tamale stand couldn’t supply these savored items fast enough and ran out quickly.
Islanders also enjoyed Mexican games throughout the day, such as “cintas,” which is a kind of jousting game for kids on bicycles, “ragueira,” a game where contestants pitch metal disks into a cup, and “loteria,” a
pictorial Bingo-type game.
Edith “Chelly” Trejo, 34, called out the picture names while gamers tried to fill in all the squares on their cards.
Liz Hotchkiss was one of the Loteria winners.
“It was fun,” she said. “I think I subconsciously absorbed some Spanish.”
She also signed up for the tortilla and guacamole making workshops.
Trejo also was dishing out “chicharrones,” a salad with avocado on a puffed pasta cracker, as the mariachis played.
It was the first time she had heard a live mariachi performance.
“I came here when I was 16 and now I have three children,” she said, confirming another point Creech had made earlier when he said that many of the Mexican kids on the island have not been exposed to their own culture.
“It’s equally important for them to learn about their own culture,” Creech said.
Vanessa Lora, an Ocracoke School ninth-grader, was among many women at the festival who wore handmade traditional dresses from the various Mexican states. She wore one from the Puebla region as she sold 50-50 tickets. She was later crowned queen of the festival for selling the most tickets.
“I’m really happy they did this,” she said about the festival.
“We’ve been teaching everyone in the school how to make tortillas,” said Gloria Perez, another event organizer. “We’ve had a lot of fun this week.”
Following the afternoon events, performances in the school gym included local musicians and dancers along with the Ballet Foklorico de Guadalupano of Asheboro, who performed a series of dances indigenous to several of the Mexican states.
An explanation of each performance was given by David Tweedie, Ocracoke Alive president, in English, and by Contreras in Spanish. Between performances, a video travelogue of Mexico explained various regions of this southern neighbor.
Tweedie was happy with the turnout, and that this event is part of Ocracoke Alive’s focus to provide infrastructure to facilitate such events.
“We wanted to support and celebrate the richness of the Mexican culture in a public way,” he said.
Before Contreras left the gym after the performances to go to the Ocracoke Community Center for the finale evening “baile,” he paused to reflect on the event.
“We enjoyed bringing people together,” he said. “We wanted to show that we are united in the community and to thank Ocracoke for everything Ocracoke has given us.”
His wife, Courtney, was ecstatic about the goodwill the event engendered.
“We’re never going to be the same,” she said. “We’ll have a special little secret.”