Local Hispanic Heritage Month events concluded Friday, Oct. 15, with a cultural celebration at the link in Nocatee. The Hispanic Festival celebrated the diversity and traditions of the Spanish-speaking population with good food, lively dancing and rousing music.
The event, organized by the First Coast Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and hosted by the link, was well-attended. Couples took to the dance floor as Javier Pérez & Ventura Band provided live music. Adults enjoyed sangria and Mexican beer. Dancers in colorful costumes entertained attendees with demonstrations of traditional dances.
And some took the opportunity to virtually travel to Spanish-speaking countries around the world inside the link’s unique 360-degree Flagler Health+ Immersive Studio.
Mambos Cuban Café provided attendees with tasty cuisine from Cuba, while Delicias Colombianas served delicious food from Colombia.
According to Monica Hernandez, president and CEO of the First Coast Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the event highlights the diversity of Spanish-speaking countries. Many people tend to classify Hispanic people as a single group, but in fact, each nation has its own cultural legacy.
“For me, it’s very important to be able to showcase that diversity,” Hernandez said. “Mexico’s very different than Colombia. Colombia is very different than Cuba. Cuba’s very different than Puerto Rico.”
The Hispanic community is the second-fastest growing minority in the United States. Latin Americans comprise 26% of the population in Florida. In St. Johns County, the Hispanic population has nearly doubled since 2010 and is currently at 7.7%. In Duval County, Hispanics make up 11.3% or the population.
For business people, that represents a significant potential customer base, which is why both Hispanic and non-Hispanic entrepreneurs seek membership in the First Coast Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
“We do understand that, as a Hispanic business owner, you do have to serve the community at large — and vice versa,” said Hernandez. “As a non-Hispanic business owner, you also want to target the Hispanic community, because at the end of the day, you don’t want to end up leaving money on the table.”
The organization, founded in 1992, advocates for the Hispanic community and Hispanic business owners. It provides workshops in both English and Spanish and scholarships to Hispanic students. Since 1995, it has provided $20,000 in scholarships in Northeast Florida.
This year’s recipients will be recognized at the Hispanic Heritage Gala & Achieving The Dream Awards on Oct. 28.
One of those attending the festival was Sonia San Juan, honorary vice consul of Spain. Based in Jacksonville, she is the point of contact for anyone in Northeast Florida needing assistance from Spain. She can help children get passports and Spaniards trying to get in contact with the Consulate General in Miami.
She can also issue waivers for Spaniards who, about to board an airplane, have discovered they’ve lost their passports.
She praised the First Coast Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
“They do an amazing job promoting businesses,” she said.
To learn more about the organization, go to fchcc.com, call 904-346-1118 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.