DOBSON — As one approached Dobson Square Park, the first sign that something was much different than what occurs during a normal Saturday afternoon in the county seat was the music.
Sure, the tune sounded the same, but rather than the familiar English-speaking version of the classic song “La Bamba” by Ritchie Valens, a Spanish rendition was emanating from a group of musicians and vocalists at a stage on the park grounds.
It turned out to be a mariachi band from Raleigh, known as Mariachi Los Galleros de Mexico, which was performing for an appreciative crowd with a decidedly Latino flavor, gathered mostly under a picnic shelter protected against the sun’s rays.
Yes, it was an outdoor festival, complete with vendors of crafts and food, whose offerings yielded further evidence that something unusual was taking place.
There were no burgers, hot dogs, corn dogs or even funnel cakes to be found. In their place were mulitas, huaraches, quesadillas, tacos, burritos and Cuban-flavored pork and chicken sandwiches served with rice.
“No funnel cake,” confirmed chief festival organizer Marlene Lopez as an onlooker wondered out loud whether that item which seems to be a fixture at every outdoor gathering in the South could be had there Saturday.
But after all, the event under way in Dobson was the Latin Festival, the town’s first.
Filling a void
In an area that boasts a number of festivals named for everything from autumn leaves to sweet potatoes, there has been no regular event held to celebrate Hispanic culture.
Lopez, who works as billing clerk/interpreter for the town of Dobson, said the idea to hold such a festival in the county seat came after conversations with Hispanic friends. The consensus was that one was long-overdue, especially with a sizable population of that ethnic group in the Dobson area.
“Basically, it’s Wayne Farms,” Lopez said of the large local employer that provides jobs for many of its members, a demographic factor which led to company sponsorship of the Latin Festival.
It drew people from near and far, with Lopez putting attendance at about 300 by mid-afternoon alone.
The event was to last until 8 p.m., featuring three bands, dancing and other attractions. As some attendees lined up at about 20 food, craft and other vendor stations, children played various games on the surrounding grounds that also included a bounce house.
Dr. Greg Little, superintendent of Mount Airy schools, was there and said he had enjoyed the “cultural experience” the festival was affording. Little also pointed out that members of the city schools’ dual-language immersion program, made up of native Spanish- and English-speaking students, were attending and taking advantage of a unique chance to interact.
“I think it’s actually been great,” Lopez said of the turnout and the fact the vendors were happy — one sign of a successful gathering.
“Nobody knew exactly what to expect,” the festival’s chief organizer admitted, given that a first-time event was involved.
It proved to be a hit with the crowd, including Joshua Perea, 15, from Elkin.
Perea said he had heard about the Latin Festival in a word-of-mouth manner.
“My mom has a friend and she invited us here,” he explained.
Perea referred to the shortage of opportunities for people of his culture to assemble in such a venue, and praised the town of Dobson for hosting an event allowing something they haven’t experienced — until Saturday:
“A big group of people and we get to come together and enjoy ourselves for a day,” the youth said.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693.