A festival in Brooklyn Park celebrating the cultures of 21 Latin American countries begins a few weeks earlier than usual.
Spinning folkloric dresses traditionally have signaled the start of Hispanic heritage month in early September. This year Brooklyn Park kicks off the event weeks early with a celebration of 21 Latin American countries and their cultures.
On Saturday, the sights, sounds and tastes of Latin America will fill the parking lot of Redeemer Covenant Church at 7801 Brooklyn Blvd., site of the Hispanic Heritage Festival.
Different stations dedicated to each Latin American country will help educate people about the customs, food and dances that exist within the Hispanic community.
"We want to demonstrate that Hispanics are not only people from Mexico and that there are 21 other countries that share Spanish as a common language," said Pastor Juan Humberto Lopez from La Bendicion Covenant Church.
This is the third year for this event. Previously, it has been held closer to Sept. 15, in accordance with the start of Hispanic Heritage Month.
"We have always held the event in September, but we are always faced with colder weather and wind," said Lopez, who hopes the change will attract a larger crowd than in previous years.
Last year, about 400 people showed up for the celebration, including ambassadors from Latin American countries. This year the ambassadors will help judge folkloric dance groups representing Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela. The groups will be judged on the authenticity of their dress, dance and music choices. Other groups are expected to join before the event.
A parade at 3 p.m. will start the celebrations, which also include games for kids, cultural exhibits, live music and food from local Latin American restaurants.
The city of Brooklyn Park has contributed by printing fliers and promoting the event through its Community Engagement Diversity Committee.
This event replaced their annual "Cinco de Mayo" celebration, which commemorated the Mexican army defeating French forces near the city of Puebla on May 5, 1862.
"The Cinco de Mayo is not even that important a date in Mexico," Lopez said.
Lopez arrived in Brooklyn Park three years ago and said he realized the community needed a more inclusive event that also could be used to educate the community.
"There are newer generations that have not experienced the happiness, warmth, creativity and cultural diversity of our Hispanic heritage," Lopez said.
There are 4,622 Hispanics or Latinos living in Brooklyn Park, according to 2010 census data. Fifty-seven percent were born in the United States.
Kristian Hernandez • 612-673-4217