Vancouver event recognizes contributions of growing Latin American community
When Paola Murillo began working with the Columbian community in Metro Vancouver after moving here seven years ago, it consisted of about 5,000 people. That community has since grown to 11,000, and the number of Latinos in the region has increased to 85,000, according to the founder of the organization LatinCouver.
As part of the fourth annual Carnaval del Sol event organized by the group, Murillo launched the first regional awards ceremony in Vancouver this year in recognition of the contributions of the growing Latino community.
“We thought it was very important to say thank you to people that are working to promote our culture, doing something for the Latino American community here,” Murillo told the Straight at the Inspirational Latin Awards ceremony Thursday (June 28) evening.
“So these kinds of things make a change and an impact in the city, and help the city to grow.”
The winners of the inaugural awards were: chef Pedro Guillen in the category of business entrepreneur and professional, Vancouver Latin American Film Festival founder Victor Martinez in the category of “leader in the cultural, arts or environmental sustainability sector”, and Rick Craig, the executive director of the Justice Education Society of B.C., in the category of “an altruist community member with non-Latino roots.” The winners were chosen out of a list of over 30 nominees.
“We always talk about the Mexican food, which is great, and everyone around the world knows it’s a great cuisine, but we have a chef, Pedro Guillen...he has been promoting his Peruvian food here in Vancouver,” said Murillo.
“He actually worked so much - he has two jobs, and just because he believed that he wanted to promote his cuisine in Vancouver, so I think that as a contribution, that people say oh there’s a Peruvian place in Vancouver...that’s amazing.
“Also we have Victor Martinez – he brought the Latin American film festival,” she added. “Thanks to him now, everyone enjoys every year going to the theatre to see films from Latin America.”
Craig said his organization works with Canadians to inform them of the law and their rights, and also focuses on human rights in Latin America.
“Recently, in the last 12 years, I’ve been trying to work [in] the northern triangle of Central America to help them respond to all the violence,” he told the Straight.
The awards ceremony marked the lead-up to a daylong event Saturday, Carnaval del Sol, which is intended to reflect the concept of the plaza that is central to many Latin American communities.
“You see people here from all different places – Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Columbia,” said Murillo. “The music and culture bring us together and that was the idea of this plaza.”
Organizers drew about 500 people to the event when it began four years ago, according to Murillo. In its location on Granville Street last year, the fiesta drew a crowd of around 50,000.
Murillo’s goal is to eventually acquire a small “rincon”, or corner, for a public square in Vancouver where the Latin American community could share their culture with the city.
“All the small towns [in Latin America} started in a plaza, because everyone started to bring their talent or what they believe,” she said. “So we believe that the same plaza can be here, because everyone brings their talent and their passion for culture, business, and they work together. So we have a virtual plaza, and we’re hoping to have a physical plaza.”
Like Murillo, VLAFF founder Martinez said he has also observed a rapid growth in the Latin American community in Vancouver since first arriving from Mexico City 16 years ago, and moving here a decade ago.
The film producer, whose recent work has included Canadian co-productions with Cuba and Mexico, said he too has a vision for sharing the Latin American culture with Vancouver, in the form of an Iber-American cultural centre.
“I’m really proud to be a Canadian with a background of Latin America, and I think that...Canada’s just about sharing what you are and enriching this beautiful country, and I think this city deserves a centre where you can go and experience music, food, cinema, dance, everything that we have to offer,” he said.
Mayor Gregor Robertson, who presented the awards Thursday evening, acknowledged the growth of the Latin American community in the region.
“I think for many of us who’ve grown up here in Vancouver, historically there hasn’t been a lot of action from the Latin American community, some leaders here and there, but now there’s a really big community that’s come together with some real purpose to unify and to make sure that Latin culture is represented in everyday life in Vancouver,” he told the crowd.
The Carnaval del Sol will take place on Granville Street between Smithe and Hastings Streets between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. on Saturday (June 30), and will include live music, dance, a street soccer tournament, a marketplace, and Latin American food vendors.