Peabody hosts tenth annual ‘Fiesta Latina’

This weekend’s 10th annual “Fiesta Latina” at the Yale Peabody Museum included events in both English and Spanish.
This weekend’s 10th annual “Fiesta Latina” at the Yale Peabody Museum included events in both English and Spanish. Photo by William Freedberg.

Sixteen-month-old Thomas Bonacci said the word “octopus” for the first time on Saturday, as he gazed at a tentacle in the Invertebrate Hall of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.

Bonacci was one of at least 200 people who attended the Peabody’s 10th annual “Fiesta Latina” this weekend. The free festival, open to all New Haven residents, aimed to bring more members of the Latino population to the museum by hosting events in both Spanish and English. Along with museum admission, the event included salsa tastings, a planetarium show in Spanish and musical and dance performances from various Latin American countries.

“We try to hit as many [Latin American] cultures as we can,” said Josue Irizarry, events coordinator for the Peabody.

The festival began in 2002 as a collaboration between the museum and the Junta for Progressive Action, the city’s oldest Latino, community-based non-profit. Yale anthropology professor Richard Burger, the curator of the museum at the time, hoped that the event would bring more of the Latino community to the Peabody, said David Heiser, the museum’s head of education and outreach.

Irizarry said that the event is typically held during Hispanic Heritage Month, which occurs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. This year’s celebration marks the first time the event has coincided with Family Weekend at Yale.

The Peabody relied on a diverse group of volunteers ranging from high school students to 90-year-olds to run the event, said Mary Anderson, the Peabody’s volunteer coordinator. Volunteers, Anderson said, were encouraged to speak in Spanish if they were bilingual. Theresa Bailey ’14, who volunteered at the festival for the first time this year, said the event exposes the Peabody to Yale students as well as members of the New Haven community.

“There’s salsa and chips and face painting overlaying the deeper history and the artifacts [of the Peabody],” Bailey said.

As part of the event’s 10th anniversary, the museum incorporated its exhibit “Big Food: Health, Culture and the Evolution of Eating” to promote the general theme of healthy living. The festival offered a free Zumba class, a puppet show hosted by the Hispanic Health Center entitled “Tommy Enjoys Exercising” and a “My Plate” craft activity that taught healthy portion sizes.

Longtime New Haven resident Natalie Coe, who has attended the event with her son Cassius for several years, said she found the healthy living theme of the event valuable. She said her favorite event was the Peruvian dance performance, adding that she and her son plan to attend the festival again.

Coe said she could not think of any ways to improve the celebration, though her seven-year-old son Cassius was quick to complain that the music was too loud.

Not all of Saturday’s Peabody visitors were aware of “Fiesta Latina.”

Danbury resident Marlene Bonacci, who attended with her husband and son, said they did not expect the museum to be hosting a special event. She added that she would probably come back for the Peabody itself, though not necessarily for the festival.

The festival concluded with a performance by Hartford’s Mariachi Connecticut band.

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