Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Hispanic Heritage Month

Plaintalker ventured downtown Saturday and encountered Tom Kean Jr. working the 6th Annual Hispanic Festival.

There was not a large turnout, but those who attended seemed enthusiastic.

Attendees received free hot dogs and cotton candy.

At 1 p.m., the program started with a march from Watchung Avenue to Park Avenue, with the American flag at the front and various Central and South American flags carried behind.

The marchers assembled at a bandstand provided by the Union County Board of Chosen freeholders. The national anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance were followed by remarks by Latin American Coalition President Flor Gonzalez. Gonzalez spoke in remembrance of the late City Council President Ray Blanco, who suffered an apparent heart attack on July 28. White doves were released in his memory.

Blanco will be remembered again on Thursday when 15 more events will be dedicated in his honor. The events will include films, music and dance, a read-in of banned Latin American authors, food sampling, an art exhibit and storytelling for children.

Perhaps most significant for the city will be the opening night program, "The Latino Presence in Plainfield."

It will be from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at the Plainfield Public Library, 800 Park Ave. Jose Adames, assistant vice president of Union County College's Plainfield Campus, will speak.

At the time of the 2000 census, the Latino population was reported as 25.2 percent, but some feel it was under-reported. Since then, it has grown to where more than 50 percent of incoming kindergarten children come from Latino homes. Plainfield's early Spanish-speaking presence was mainly from Puerto Rico, but then the city and the nation saw an influx of immigrants fleeing poverty and violence in Central and South America.

Nowadays, there are many more Mexicans coming to the United States.

Getting to know the new neighbors and their diverse cultures has been a struggle for many Plainfielders. Issues such as day laborers congregating downtown and business owners hiring only their own kind have caused friction. Blanco succeeded in winning City Council approval to form a Hispanic Affairs Commission, which so far has no appointees.

Meanwhile, the roster of events is very timely for all Plainfielders who want to know more about this burgeoning segment of the population. Sponsors are the Cultural and Heritage Commission and the Plainfield Latino Coordinating Committee, with Union County Colege's Plainfield Campus and Student Government Association as co-sponsors.

The sponsors have posted blogs in English and Spanish for more information and updates. See http://PlainfieldHispanicHeritage.blogspot.com or http://HerenciaHispanaPlainfield.blogspot.com for the full schedule and updates.

--Bernice Paglia


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