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Hillyard festival celebrates Hispanic heritage

Adam, 16 and Daniel Cyr, 8, perform Saturday, Aug. 28 in Harmon Park as part of the annual Spokane Hispanic Heritage Festival.  (Dan Pelle)
Adam, 16 and Daniel Cyr, 8, perform Saturday, Aug. 28 in Harmon Park as part of the annual Spokane Hispanic Heritage Festival. (Dan Pelle)

“Alegria” is a sense of deep-felt joy. It’s a feeling that Luis Vigil hopes his band, Los Vigiles, is able to create in a crowd.

As Vigil awaited the beginning of Los Vigiles’ set at Saturday’s Hispanic Heritage Festival, he said he also hoped to alleviate fears of “differences.”

It was a theme repeated often at the 4th annual event, held this year in Hillyard. With immigration issues at the forefront of discussion these days, event organizers aimed to show that the Hispanic community is an integral part of the larger community.

Festival organizer Michael Fernandez said the musical performances of the day are a part of the cultural awareness experience when people attend the festival.

“Music helps transcend the color barriers. Folks coming to the event see the Hispanic community in a different light,” Fernandez said. “Not as a threat, but as independent business people that are involved in this community.”

Fernandez said especially in light of the new immigration law in Arizona, the music and the festival are especially important. Even though the drastic change to immigration law is in Arizona, Fernandez said many people of the Hispanic community in Spokane have relatives or friends who would be subject to the law.

“The view toward immigrants we find troubling. We’re concerned about the singling out of the Hispanic population,” Fernandez said. “Some people are using the immigration issue as a diversion from the drug problem in this country.”

To spotlight the cultural richness of the Hispanic population in Spokane, the festival featured musical and dance performances, games, food vendors and representatives from various local agencies.

The Latino population of 15,000 in Spokane is not the only audience for these bands, but the entire community enjoys them, Fernandez said. He called the lineup of local bands, including La Familia Lopez, Los Vigiles and Son Dulce “some of the finest Latino bands in the state.”

Los Vigiles features Luis Vigil on the drums, along with his brother, a niece, nephew and son. The band plays mostly four Latin rhythms, including the samba and mamba, but each country in Latin America has a different rhythm, Vigil said.

“We are getting more and more support. We see an interest in Latino music growing in Spokane,” Vigil said. “It’s good to educate people about our culture so they know we’re not dangerous,” he said.

Olga Lucia Herrera, a co-host of the KYRS radio program “Latitud” said she plays Latino music of all different types from all around the world. She knows the listening audience in Spokane is interested in Latino music, and said she sees a need for more locally produced Latino music.

The Festival is put on by the Hispanic Business Association, an organization dedicated to providing scholarships for Hispanic students. It also receives funding from the city of Spokane and Washington State Arts Commission, area schools and community donors, Fernandez said.