Celebration and Visibility: Happy Valley Latin Festival


Elena Wright

Festival goers danced to DJ Adam on Fraser street.

Elena Wright, Opinion Editor

Sat. Oct 8 marked the second annual Happy Valley Latin Festival. The festival filled South Fraser street and the MLK plaza with music and dancing from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Festivities included performances, vendors, cultural displays, and of course, delicious food.

Spearheaded by Ady Martinez, owner of Venezuelan restaurant Juana’s in downtown State College, the festival began in 2021 as a space for Latinos in the community to share their diverse culture. This year’s festival represents “¡Un idioma, un sentir, somos familia, al ritmo de un mismo son!” or, translated to, “a language, a feeling, we are family, to the rhythm of the same beat.”

The festival ran during National Hispanic Heritage Month–a time meant to honor and celebrate the accomplishments and people of Hispanic descent.

Malena Ramirez, a Puerto Rican performer, and roller skater extraordinaire was the MC for this year’s Latin Festival. With Latin music blasting behind her, Ramirez explained why community events such as this one are so important.

“Before last year, we didn’t have a festival where we can share our culture and celebrate and share it with the world. It is important to feel like we belong, you know, in a place where Latin people doesn’t seem to live here but we do, we do live here!” she shared enthusiastically.

Ramirez and others danced in front of the stage colorfully adorned with Latin American flags. Ramirez’s student, Adam Romero, also known as DJ Adam, filled the festival with sounds of reggaeton remixes.

In a town that is primarily white, many local Latinos felt that the Latin Festival provided a space to feel a sense of belonging at State College.

“There is a bit of a drought in Central PA of Latin culture,” current Penn State and former State High student Mélica Kemanian Leites said.

The festival had no lack of pride and celebration. Vendors had everything from Peruvian baskets to Mexican silver and monster caricatures.

Monster D, who describes himself as a “combination of a caricature artist, a party clown, and Alice Cooper”, was prepared to give festival-goers spooky and monstrous drawings of their faces. The first step is to spin the wheel; the wheel determines what part of the face Monster D is going to distort. With options like chin, lips, and more, the drawings were sure to be grotesque.

Monster D explained that he enjoys connecting with the people that he draws and why he decided to participate in Latin Festival this year. “I am half Puerto Rican and I do enjoy learning of my own culture […] I did not grow up with it but I’ve been enjoying embracing it as time has gone on more,” he said.

Festival goers could also enjoy Latin culture through the bold flavors of Brazilian, Colombian, and Venezuelan food.
“There was one dude giving out authentic Cuban coffee. It was really good. It was like super sugared,” Kemanaian Leites said, describing one of her favorite stands at the Festival.

In addition to the vendors, there were performances from dancers such as salsa, tango, and more.

Putting together a community event takes passion, dedication, and a lot of support. Organizers met every month (leading up to the event–every week) to find performers, vendors, and volunteers.

Clarisa Capone, an Argentinian Spanish Teacher at State High, was an organizer for this year’s Latin Festival. “I wanted to give back to my community,” she said.

Capone also enjoyed the feeling of belonging that was created by the volunteers, performers, attendees, and more. For her, these types of community events are important to draw attention to the Latin population that is often not seen in State College. Capone described Latin Festival as a space to “celebrate our heritage and culture but also to share it with the community because we are very diverse and there are a lot of us here”.

Once again, the Happy Valley Latin Festival proved to be an event focused on visibility, pride, and celebration. This year’s festival undoubtedly created a buzz for future celebrations to come.