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Salsa summer
Third annual Fiesta Latina to highlight diversity of Latino culture

River Street will be transformed June 21 by the sounds of Salsa, MerengÜe, Cumbia, Norteño, Bachata, Reggaetón and other types of Latino music, as dance troupes put the rhythms into motion.

It’s time for Fiesta Latina, an event that has proven to be extremely popular, even though this is just the third year it will be held. Presented by the Latin American Services Organization (LASO) with help from sponsors, including the City of Savannah’s Department of Cultural Affairs, the fiesta gives Hispanics the opportunity to share their traditions with others.

Featured musical artists will include Orquesta Serenata Band and Somos Peruanos from Atlanta, Orquesta con Clase from Fort Stewart and Banda Cielo Azul and La Marca from South Carolina. There also will be arts and crafts, storytelling and, of course, food.

“Hispanics, whether newcomers or long-term residents, are proud of our culture and eager to share it as we work and contribute to make our new home, Savannah, a vibrant, welcoming, multicultural city,” says LASO President Diego Torres.

The fiesta will be a special occasion for members of Orquesta con Clase, who will present their first performance since arriving home after serving in Iraq.

Volunteer Jorge Tupac says the festival provides an opportunity to see Hispanics as they really are -- people with families, who are proud of their heritage and hoping to establish a home for themselves in Savannah.

“I’ve been in Savannah for 14 years,” Tupac says. “Thirteen-and-a-half years ago, I told my wife we were leaving -- and here we are now. We bought a house and everything.”

By day, Tupac is a police officer in Precinct 3 and is part of the department’s Latino officers’ outreach program.

“LASO is oriented to helping the Latinos to better their way of life within the American community,” Tupac says. “A lot of them aren’t able to speak English. As such, they have a lot of problems getting used to life in Savannah, especially the rules and regulations. LASO, in conjunction with the police department, the hospitals and other entities, creates workshops that are bilingual in nature. We present different programs and teach groups of people the rules. That makes adaptation to America life a little bit easier.”

The festival is a natural outgrowth of LASO’s other programs.

“It was started because the Hispanic community was growing,” Tupac says. “Just like any other social group, like the Asian Festival or Greek Festival, Hispanics wanted to show the city the different kinds of culture. We have a lot to offer. When these festivals come to life, it gives people the opportunity to see what Carlos and Pedro are doing for this country. It shows they have a life and a culture behind them, that there is culture behind a taco.”

Fiesta Latina!

What: Latin-American stage performances, traditional food, arts & crafts and children's activities, representing a broad cross-section of Latin American cultures. Presented by the Latin American Services Organization.When: June 21 from 2-8 p.m.Where: Rousakis Plaza, River Street.Cost: Free.Info: 238-2032 or