Live entertainment dominated the scene at “Viva Las Americas,” on Saturday where a salsa band stole the stage located in front of Fisherman’s Wharf.
Decked out in rhinestone-studded jeans, a diverse line of female singers from the band invited the crowd to join in and dance.
The freestyle salsa dance moves of one Caucasian elderly couple dressed in Latin garb inspired others to form a dance circle. As the elderly gentleman clapped his hands and “lassoed” his dance partner in a spin, young and old dancers cut loose and entered the circle.
“I think it is great,” said Ivan D’Arrigo, 14, of Novato. “It’s a great attraction for everyone. They can dance, listen to music, and check out the sights to see.”
Hosted by the San Francisco Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, “Viva Las Americas,” now in its fifth year, is one of the Hispanic Chamber’s largest events during the year, said Fernando Arana, an office administrator for the chamber. He said the chamber offers the event, so the public can learn more about Latin culture and so Spanish-speaking business owners can find help for their businesses.
“We are the platform for (business owners) to network with other businesses and the public in general,” Arana said. “We hope to have visibility in the Bay Area through our Web site and our events.”
D’Arrigo said also he attended the festival to help promote the Bay Area Latino Film Festival booth. He participated in the film festival’s summer program – an ethnically diverse group of teenagers who produced a 30-second commercial for Subaru.
Sylvia Perel, founder and director of the Latino Film Festival said her summer program students have been learning the art of filmmaking and winning international awards over the past nine years.
Perel said she founded the Latino Film Festival, an organization that supports filmmaking for Latinos, 10 years ago, because the Hispanic community didn’t have a presence in the “big picture,” the commercial realm.
Other booths at “Viva Las Americas” included Telemundo television, an affiliate of NBC, Chicana Latina Foundation, a Hispanic radio station and a booth for Precita Eyes Mural Arts Center, a nonprofit that sponsors mural projects in the Bay Area.
Precita Eyes offered kids a chance to make traditional Latin crafts, including multi-color tissue flowers and corn husk dolls made from actual corn husks.
Kristina Lovato-Hermann, a recent SF State graduate and Precita Eyes board member, said she found the organization through a field trip she took in her SF State public mural arts class.
“I traveled up different paths (with the organization),” said Lovato-Hermann, who majored in social work.
I volunteered to work on the murals and eventually became interested in different parts of Precita Eyes – like fundraising, she added.
Another reason for the celebration is that a number of Latin countries celebrate their Independence Day during the month of September, Arana said.
But some fair goers longed for the authentic celebration in “The Americas,” the Central American countries that include Mexico, Honduras and Nicaragua, among others.
“Back home it’s different,” said Evelyn Alvarez of Daly City. “They close schools…it’s a big celebration.”
Her husband, William Alvarez, agreed.
“It’s a combination of the Fourth of July, Halloween, and that fair on Folsom Street,” he said. “It’s a big deal back there.”
In addition, William said he was really disappointed with the “Viva Las Americas” festival. A lot of propaganda and news surrounded the event, he said, but the event itself was a small gathering.
“I don’t see a single booth or flag from the Americas,” he said, adding that the fair didn’t offer any Hispanic food or booths for consulates of Central American countries.
William said it was different when he attended a festival for Latinos in Dolores Park a few years ago, where he encountered a booth for the Nicaraguan Consulate that helped him take a trip to the Central American country.
“It was informative and interesting,” he said. “But there was no advertising.”
Along with “Viva Las Americas,” the San Francisco Hispanic Chamber of Commerce hosts the “Latino Business Awards” every year to honor distinguished Bay Area Latinos in business. This year’s event will be held on Sept. 27 at the Marriott in San Francisco.