In 1983 seven Hispanic members of the Hollywood community did something radical. They decided to throw a party. Why was that so radical? Because of what it's become. Eighteen years later people come from all over South Florida to attend their fiesta, the Hollywood Beach Latin Festival-- the largest event with a Hispanic theme in Broward County. "The original idea was to fill up the beach, which is normally empty in August, one of our slowest months," explains one of the festival's seven founders, Pepe Lopez. But the Hollywood Beach Latin Festival has done more than that. It has attracted support from dozens of groups and businesses, ranging from the South Florida Water Management District to local hospitals.
Taking into account that Hispanics comprise more than 70 percent of festival participants, organizers have ingeniously used the celebration as a vehicle for community outreach. More than just a party, it features a health fair including several major hospitals and clinics. Festivalgoers can have their blood pressure and cholesterol checked for free. "Many people are uninformed and scared to ask for guidance. This is a great way to reach out to the Hispanic community and disseminate information about the health care system here in the United States," explains Roguey Doyle, special-events supervisor for the City of Hollywood Department of Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Arts.
Health and welfare aside, what has really made the Hollywood Beach Latin Festival successful is phenomenal live music. This year the main stage headlines salsa legend Roberto Torres. Rising Puerto Rican pop songstress Yaire, whom some have called the next Jennifer Lopez, follows. Locals such as Orquesta Brava and DJ Oscar Lopez keep the music going with a combination of salsa, merengue, and electronica. An additional stage features folk dancers in traditional costumes from such countries as Cuba, Venezuela, and Colombia.
The event offers food, arts, and crafts from more than 12 Latin-American countries, along with sand art, face-painting, and games for kids. But the Hollywood Beach Latin Festival is more than that. Perez says, "This is a family event. We don't want to see just young people but young people with their grandmothers, uncles, cousins, and so on." Obviously word is getting out. Last year more than 40,000 people attended the festival. This year organizers expect more than 50,000 attendees, so bring your dancing shoes, a big appetite, and your kinfolk. It's a family affair.