On this weekend, Spanish becomes the primary language in downtown Augusta. Al pastor and carne asada are steaming from the grill under Torres’ cooking tent in Augusta Common, and his family talks with strangers in their native tongue.
“A lot of Latinos, we have a lot of things in common, and on these days we can come here and share that and see other people enjoy it, too,” Torres said.
Highlighting Hispanic culture with dance, music and food, thousands of people celebrated the 19th annual Hispanic Festival of Augusta this weekend.
Estrella Febus, the president of Asociacion Cultural Hispanoamericana, which plays host to the festival, said the event is a way to bring attention to a culture that is not always noticed in the area.
In Augusta, just 4 percent of the population is Hispanic or Latino, according to 2010 census data, and the 60 members of Febus’ organization try to make their presence known all year.
“We want to let people here know that we’re here, and we want people to know what we’re about,” Febus said. “It’s an opportunity for all the Hispanics to come together in one language here.”
About 6,000 people attended the festival last year, and Febus said she estimated this year to be just as popular.
More than 20 countries were represented through food and accents heard around the venue.
Around Augusta Common, vendors sold rotisserie chicken from Venezuela, pork from Mexico and jewelry stitched with Puerto Rican flair. Onstage, the crowd could see folklore dancing from Mexican, Panamanian and Cuban traditions.
For five University of Salamanca students, sharing their culture is worth traveling around the world.
Dressed in traditional black velvet jackets and capes, the students played classical Spanish music on guitars and bandurrias, singing songs dating back as far as the 13th century.
“We do this to keep a tradition alive,” said Miguel Angel Luengo, 22. “It’s a very beautiful thing. You meet a lot of people, and the most beautiful thing is you do it through the music.”
The group, Tuna Universitaria de Salamanca, travels the world between university studies to share the music of their ancestors and will spend 10 days in Augusta and Atlanta performing.
Asociacion Cultural Hispanoamerica board member Lisbeth Hunter said she hoped people would walk away from the festival having learned about different countries and cultures.
“With all these cultures, even I am learning from hearing the accents and different words,” Hunter said. “We taste all the different foods from different countries, and it’s very different from what we know. The way they dress, the way they dance, everyone is different, and that’s what this is about.”