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Carnaval Del Sol Morphs Downtown Vancouver into a Latin American Plaza

If Latin American society is very visible its partly because it relies on the street and the plaza as meeting and recreational spaces; the weekend of July 5 and 6, Carnaval del Sol transformed downtown Granville street into just that: a Latin American plaza that despite the rain drew nearly 80,000 people.

Founded by the association Latincouver in 2009, this year’s festival showcased Latin American culture through music, dance, handcrafts, artworks, food and much more. Among these other activities were the street soccer matches that drew participants beyond the Latino community. This was the case of Australian Sam Powderly, who found out about the festival when his friends invited him to join the tournament.

Besides attendees, volunteers were equally diverse. Part of a crew of approximately 370 people, foreign students like Ainura Yenikova joined the festival to gain experience, enjoy free food, and make new friends; though selling raffle tickets to a large volume of people at times challenged her.

Latin Culture and all of its Derivatives were on Display for all to see: Dance, Food, Music & Rhythm like you wouldn’t believe!

For food vendors, the challenge was welcomed. While cuisines ranged from Argentina to Mexico, from pastries to barbecue, vegetarian alternatives could be found in authentic street fashion. Helena Mareli’s  Chilango Mango stand is such an example. For her third year she offered visitors mangoes cut and spiced like the ones found in Mexico City. For Mrs. Mareli, the choice for mangoes was obvious since, “people like the appearance of it. [And] We wanted to sell some type of street food but the market for prepared foods has plenty of competitors, so we decided for mangoes.” Though she sells mostly for the Carnaval, her participation has elicited demand for other festivals and catering events.

The nearly 450 performers and artists benefited from a similar exposure. Dance instructors and DJ’s promoted their music and lessons at the new “Viva Plaza” in Robson square, teaching attendees to move to the beats of Latin America. Likewise, local and regional groups played traditional and contemporary Latino music to an eager crowd of listeners and dancers that turned the street into a dance floor.

Still, for jugglers Michael O’Shaughnessy, Homero Lopez, and Tara Ohta the Carnaval was not so much a space to perform as to hangout doing what they love. But while they don’t consider themselves performers, their talent constituted an attraction at the “Arts and Culture Plaza” organized in partnership with Glitz Entertainment.

According to Shay Hickling, volunteer and event coordinator for Glitz Entertainment, this was the first year her company partnered with Latincouver to bring more local talents to Carnaval del Sol. In addition to jugglers, hula hoop and poi practitioners, painters, musicians and body-painting artists, gathered under the umbrella of Glitz. For the Vancouver based company, the Carnaval offered an opportunity to expand their networks and reach to a broader audience, including the Latin American community.

 Looking to the Future: Community Involvement & Sponsorship are Key

These aims are shared by Carnaval del Sol organizers. Paola Murillo, director and founder of both the festival and Latincouver, commented how there was a need for a physical plaza, “something that would represent and unite the Latinos.” She explains that the Carnaval requires to expand its network of support.

With a cost of approximately 200,000 dollars, and a preparation of one year, the two day festival depends on sponsors for most of its funding. The city itself provides some support, but this is mostly in areas of consultation and city staff hours; which is why for Murillo, “Even if we have an economic revenue for Vancouver of 1.2 million…we need [sponsor] support to continue.”

Regardless, the festival continues to grow, with plans to bring artists from more distant regions, and while the weather limited this year’s expectations, Murillo relates that city officials congratulated Latincouver for bringing people together. This was most noticeable in 2011, when after the Stanley Cup riots Carnaval del Sol helped bring back a sense of community. “Latinos were perceived as positive and energetic,” able to organize masses of people without a problem. “So far our passion has gone in a positive way.”

Photo Credits to Sebastian Buitrago

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