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Fiesta Latina provides Minnesota's Latino community a welcome opportunity to come together

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Visitors dance at the Fiesta Latina celebration
Visitors dance at the Fiesta Latina celebration on Saturday on St. Paul’s East Side. The festival, in its fourth year, celebrates Latino art and culture. It is put on by Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio (CLUES), a nonprofit resource and service organization serving a mostly Latino population.
Peter Cox | MPR News

Celebrating culture and community in the wake of last week's deadly shooting aimed at Latinos in Texas, several thousand people gathered in St. Paul on Saturday for the annual Fiesta Latina celebration.

The fourth annual event sponsored by the nonprofit Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio (CLUES) started relatively small in its first year, but since then it has grown fast. It now stretches along a couple blocks of East Seventh Street and side streets.

"It grew from being in the parking lot of the building (and) now we are closing the streets," said Ruby Lee, president of CLUES. "The very first year I remember we had 50 backpacks to give away (as prizes); today we have 1,000."

This year’s event was in the works long before the Aug. 3 shooting at the El Paso Walmart that left 22 people dead; the suspect reportedly has told authorities he was targeting Mexicans.

Jasmine Campoverde was a dance performer at Saturday's event in St. Paul. She said the festival brought a welcome sense of togetherness in light of the El Paso shooting, which has weighed heavily on her mind.

"It makes it a little bit scary to ... go out on the streets and actually be proud of who you are, because you're not sure of who's around the corner, and who might be wanting to do something bad to you," she said. "But also because of the events that happened, I also feel a lot more solidarity and community within the Latino community."

Rosemary Ferrufino of Bloomington, who came upon the festival by accident, echoed those sentiments. 

"People are very afraid with all this hate against our communities. We don't feel safe," she said. "We have to keep stronger. Be proud of who you are, be proud that you are Hispanic. Be proud that you are part of this beautiful Hispanic community. Continue moving forward — the sky is not the limit. So just keep going — keep going and have faith."

Fiesta Latina included bands, dancers, and food trucks which represented the music, dance and food of a variety of Latino cultures from north, central and south America.

Victoria Campoverde also was among the performers at the celebration. Speaking through a translator, she said that at Fiesta Latina "we are able to share our cultures with other countries."

And beyond that, she said, it lets members of the Latino community access resources and, for new immigrants to Minnesota, offers an important chance to help them gain information to navigate life in their new home.

Campoverde said the gathering celebrated what makes people unique while also making everyone feel like they have something in common.