By Jennifer L. Warren
MONROE – For Ruben Estrada, the reasons for holding a Latin Festival run deep: Community, culture, national pride, education, hope and patriotism to name a few.
So, when it came time to select a location for his nearly decade old Annual Fiesta Latina, Estrada, the Chairperson of the long-running, popular community event as well as the American Latino Coalition, wanted a spot that represented all of that and more. He found it at the Museum Village in Monroe.
“We have a 19th living museum of America right here in Orange County,” said Estrada as he looked around the charming, history-laden grounds of this year’s ninth annual celebration Saturday. “The recent arrivals of Latinos who come here will be able to see first-hand how America was in the 19th Century, because the education system is changing that, and by seeing this, they might hopefully become more interested in the true history of America.”
Hundreds gathered on those sacred grounds on a picture perfect summer day to absorb that historic landscape by visiting individual colonial houses stocked with authentic pearls of colonial history while also enjoying the offerings of over 60 vendors. The aim of Estrada and his hard-working team is laser focused on “trying to keep American history alive” while raising critical monies for the Museum Village. That fiscal help further extends to assisting Puerto Rico through Helping Hands for Puerto Rico; a continuing need still exists due to the earthquake devastation this area endured. It’s also a solidified effort of American-Latinos, working together with all people, and continuing to move forward for the betterment of everyone.
“I’ve been coming here the past three years, and it’s the culture I really love to be around, experiencing the music, food, dancing and real community,” said Leticia Diaz of New Windsor. “I bump into people from all over- New York, New Jersey, Staten Island, Bronx and Brooklyn, and we all celebrate together and make it into one big party.”
This year’s 10am-7pm well-attended celebration, with free admission and parking, not only included plenty of savory, authentic Latin food, colorful art, salsa music from the honored “Chico Alvarez and Mafimba Band and La Jara all NYPD Latin Band,” who use music as a platform of connection to those they serve, and lively dancing, but so too several formal recognitions of deep gratitude. One was made to a business that has supported the Latina Festival as well as Latino community; this year’s recipient was Dan Teutul of Orange County Ironworks LLC. Two Latino politicians, who have served as trailblazers on multiple levels, Wallkill Town Supervisor, George Serrano, as well as Orange County Legislator, Kevindaryan Lujan, were further honored with “Con Orgullo Lo Nuestro Awards” and rounds of loud applause for their deep commitment to their heritage as well as unwavering dedication to improving the communities they serve.
“I thank all of those who came before me; my parents taught me to always have respect and hard work pays off,” said proud recipient and empowering leader, Serrano. “I could not have done this myself, and I am humbled and blessed to stand here today.” He added, “Accolades are great, but the biggest one is when residents come up and thank me for what we are getting done; we are getting really diverse here in Wallkill, and it’s really wonderful to see.”
Lujan also traced his gratitude for the recognition back to his bedrock ancestry, people who profoundly shaped the person he has evolved into, someone always seeking to leave things better than he found them.
“When I think about these kinds of honors, I think of the people who paved the way, like my mother and grandmother who both immigrated here from Columbia,” said pioneer Lujan, the first Latino ever elected in the Orange County Legislature and among one of the youngest. “I think about how hard they worked, the sacrifices they made, such as my mother being a single mom and grandmother coming here with very little money in her pockets.” Lujan, reflecting further, continued, “How can I make others’ lives better has always been my guiding compass, so I share this honor today with them, as it would not have been possible without them.”