Latino Fest is a fair within a fair

Latino Fest: 'A fair within a fair'
By Michelle L. Quinn, Post-Tribune, August 9, 2009

CROWN POINT -- Good thing Kristy Burciaga has no trouble singing in front of crowds, because her performance at the Hispanics Out Promoting Excellence inaugural Latino Fest at the Lake County Fair monumentally changed with the opening of a CD case.

The 16-year-old thought she had her music ready, but a half-hour before she was to perform in front of a crowd of more than 500, she discovered she didn't have the CD she needed. But rather than forfeit her performance, Kristy got up and sang Kelly Clarkson's "Moment Like This" a capella.

"It was an accident, but I think I did well," said Kristy, a resident of Calumet Township. "I love to sing, and I'm Hispanic, and both of those things go together for this event. How could I not participate?"

Kristy is just the type of young person HOPE seeks to attract, as the 3-year-old Latino-based group seeks to wipe out the alarming high-school dropout rate of more than 45 percent it has in Northwest Indiana, said Oscar Sanchez, Lake County Sheriff Roy Dominguez's chief of staff and HOPE member.

The event itself was a fundraiser for the organization so it can continue sending Hispanic students to the Hispanic Leadership Academy it sponsors.

"Forty-five to 50 percent -- that's horrible, so the sheriff wanted to do something about it," Sanchez said of the department's involvement. "We don't want to take the place of parents; we just want to mentor students and get them where they should be."

So far, it's been working nicely: The latest group of students who participated in the academy came back energized and ready to take on the school with a whole new view, Sanchez said.

Jose Arredondo, HOPE's education director, said the group was expecting upwards of 4,000 people to attend the festivities, comprised of popular bands Lobos and Tierra.

"This is our music, our food and our culture. The response has been terrific," he said.

Put together in only 90 days, Lorraine Guillen-Wentz, HOPE's business director, has much bigger plans for next year's program. Instead of one day, it will be two days long and offer much more.

"I see it as a 'fair within a fair,' and it'll focus on more exposure for Spanish businesses," she said. "There's a big community out there who supports a diverse workplace, and we've seen a great mix of people today."

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