On Saturday, more than just dinosaurs took center stage in the Great Hall of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. Merengue musicians, mariachi bands and ballet folklorico performers could all be found singing and dancing next to the Apatosaurus.
These performers were just one part of the events held at the Peabody’s twelfth annual “Fiesta Latina.” The free festival, which welcomed over 2,500 museum visitors, featured crafts, activities, fossil digs, performances and specimen viewings, all centered around Latin American culture. Event coordinator Josue Irizarry said this year was the most successful the festival has ever been. The Peabody hosted the event in collaboration with Junta for Progressive Action, an organization that aims to provide services and advocacy for members of the Latino community in New Haven. The event was initially inspired by a desire to reach out and engage all members of the Latino community — those from the tip of Argentina to the northern Mexican border — to teach them more about science, Irizarry added.
“It’s a fascinating culture,” Irizarry said. “Each Latin American country has a different history, different culture and different music and not everybody knows that.”
According to Irizarry, most natural history museums do not feature cultural events like Fiesta Latina. All information featured during the celebration, including museum specimen names, appeared in both Spanish and English, he added.
Coinciding with National Hispanic Heritage Month, the event included merengue, salsa and Caribbean music, as well as cultural crafts and activities. Children were also exposed to activities showcasing pioneers in Latin American culture, from scientists to athletes to astronauts.
Despite the organizers’ focus on cultural education, many children attendees interviewed said their favorite activity was face painting. Even Yale undergraduate Dante Archangeli ’17 had his face painted like a tiger’s. Archangeli said he was surprised by all the museum had to offer and believes free-admission events like Fiesta Latina are integral to bringing science to the community. He hopes the museum plans on having similar events in the future, he said.
Event volunteer Coralys De Jesus was supposed to stop working at around three in the afternoon, but so many visitors kept arriving that she had to stay later, she said. Volunteering for a second year at the event, De Jesus said it was better organized and better attended than in past years. She added that the museum does an excellent job of including various Latin American countries, rather than focusing on just one.
Yale Ballet Folkloricó dancer Cristal Suarez ’16 said her group, which has been attending the Peabody festivities for long as she has been a member, loves performing for the families with small children. The day, which fell during Family Weekend this year, also offers a great opportunity for the group to debut their newest members, she added.
“I think [Fiesta Latina] really gives us a chance to share our culture with other people, and in turn to learn from others and to see what we share in common,” Suarez said.
Irizarry said the organizers have already received the same positive feedback they have year after year about the event, but are still trying to find ways to attract more people next year.
Six-year-old museum visitor Amélie Michaelson held a live bird and snake for the first time at Fiesta Latina, but her family was there for more than fun, her father Marc Michaelson said. Through attending the event, the family hopes to stay better connected with Amélie’s mother’s Puerto Rican culture.
“We wanted to celebrate Latin culture because it is a big part of New Haven and a big part of our family” Michaelson said.
According to the 2010 consensus, 24.7 percent of the New Haven population is Hispanic or Latino.