Staff Photo by Kelly Wegel -- Taco Roc cooks Gustavo Perez, left, and Galdino Chavez cook carne asada for burritos Sunday at the Chattanooga Market during Latin Fair, also called Feria Hispana, a day featuring Hispanic foods, music and activities benefiting La Paz de Dios.
It’s only a scheduling coincidence that La Feria Hispana falls on the eve of the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo, but La Paz de Dios officials said the Sunday events at the First Tennesse Pavillion exposes the Chattanooga community to a variety of Spanish-speaking cultures.
“A lot of people associate (Cinco de Mayo) with Hispanic culture, they’re more open to sharing with us,” said Susan Reyes, a volunteer with La Paz de Dios and whose mother, Sylvia Rangel, serves as office manager.
Sunday’s Feria Hispana was the fourth annual and largest fundraiser for the Chattanooga-based organization that provides resources to those in the Hispanic community and spreading awareness of their culture, whether Mexican, Guatemalan or any other countless nationalities.
Last year the group raised $10,000 from sponsors and their booths of food and information that mingle among the usual vendor crowd at the Chattanooga Market every Sunday. Susan, a junior at Ooltewah High School, spent two days helping her mother make traditional Mexican tamales, chipotle chicken and watermelon water to sell.
“It’s a really good culture mix,” said Susan who peered out on the dance floor with people of all ages and cultural backgrounds dancing the salsa, or at least attempting to. “It surpasses limits.”
St. Elmo resident Jimmie Whatley said he came specifically to listen to the Latin music of the band Tropical Swing.
“I like to diversify my world,” he said. “It’s a good mix of people, and I like to talk to people.”
Henry Martinez said he usually brings his family from Dalton to the Chattanooga Market on Sundays, but he especially enjoys La Feria Hispana because it highlights the Hispanic culture and an organization that promotes it and provides resources.
“It’s a good thing. A lot of Hispanic people needed to come,” said Mr. Martinez, adding more advertising might have drawn in a larger Hispanic crowd.
Mr. Matinez, who is of Mexican descent and whose wife, Carmen, is from Mexico, said their Cinco de Mayo celebration on Monday will be a quiet family one, with no battle reenactments as in Mexico of Mexican soldiers repelling French troops.
La Feria and a celebration at Walnut Square Mall in Dalton on Sunday were the two biggest celebrations surrounding Cinco de Mayo, with Monday’s celebrations resting with food and drink specials at area restaurants and bars.
But Edwin Juarez, 11, said he knew La Feria Hispana wasn’t just about one day or one culture.
“We’re here to hear a different kind of music. Different people like Mexican food and all that,” said Edwin, who added his favorite part was one of the children’s rides. “Mexicans get along with Americans.”