As Latincouver prepares for Carnaval del Sol, it's also launched a year-round Latin American plaza in Gastown

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      There’s no shortage of Latin Americans who’ve helped boost Vancouver’s international reputation and cement the city’s identity. Dr. Julio Montaner came from Argentina in the early 1980s and went on to write more than 800 scientific papers on HIV/AIDS.

      His team at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS played a major role in turning this deadly condition into a chronic, manageable disease.

      Actor, director, and writer Carmen Aguirre came to Vancouver as a refugee from Chile, only to blaze new trails in Canadian theatre while promoting greater understanding about the nature of oppression.

      Melania Alvarez, who grew up in Mexico City, is one of B.C.’s foremost mathematics educators, winning the Canadian Mathematical Society’s Adrien Pouliot Award in 2012 for her contributions.

      Another former resident of Mexico, Adolfo Gonzalez, is one of Canada’s most sought-after consultants on medicinal cannabis. And Peruvian-born Annelise Sorg led the fight to stop the display of whales and dolphins at the Vancouver Aquarium.

      Sitting in the boardroom of the Latin Plaza Hub in Gastown, Paola Murillo is eager to nurture the talents of the next generation of Latin American achievers who can transform Vancouver.

      This year, Latincouver's Carnaval del Sol will be celebrating its 10th anniversary.

      The nonprofit group Latincouver opened this coworking space in May to help people from Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean forge new connections, grow their own businesses, and develop social enterprises.

      Murillo, the organization’s Colombian-born executive director, recognizes the challenges that people face in a new country with different systems, having moved here in 2005. But she also knows that the Latin American community is an awakening giant in Vancouver.

      “There are over 125,000 Latin Americans living in Metro Vancouver, counting students and children from Latin parents,” Murillo told the Straight.

      She revealed that she’s been dreaming of opening a workspace like this ever since she founded Latincouver 10 years ago.

      Featuring the artwork of Mexican graphic designer Carime Quezada and festooned in the bright colours of a Latin plaza, it offers a warm and hospitable atmosphere. There’s even a hammock that wouldn’t look out of place in northern Brazil.

      The Latin Plaza Hub has been created as a year-round gathering place to complement Latincouver’s signature event, the two-day festival known as Carnaval del Sol.

      This year, it will take place on July 7 and 8 at Concord Pacific Place (88 Pacific Boulevard), featuring more than 400 artists and musicians. Some of the bands, like Sambacouver and Tanga, have been at previous festivals, but Murillo said there will also be several new faces showing up on the five stages.

      Latin American Week is organized by the nonprofit organization Latincouver, and it culminates in the always festive Carnaval del Sol.

      Carnaval del Sol caps off Latin American Week, which will include a Canada Day celebration on Granville Island, a night of Latin American films at the Vancity Theatre on July 3, and a panel of female filmmakers at UBC Robson Square on July 4.

      “Then, July 5 is flamenco, tango, and wine in one night [at Performance Works],” Murillo said. “I love that one.”

      This year’s Carnaval del Sol will have a beer garden that can accommodate 900 people, which is up from 600 last year. There are also eight workshops for children, as well as plazas devoted to arts, food, family events, health and wellness, and travel.

      There’s also going to be a Mexican fashion designer, Tony Sequera. Plus, there will be five-on-five soccer matches, with the first-place team taking home $1,000.

      “We want people to feel like they have been transported somewhere else in Latin America,” Murillo said.

      Carnaval del Sol takes place at Concord Pacific Place on July 7 and 8. For more information, visit the website.