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Fiesta Hispana Highlights Growing Latino Community

By: Dana Brueck
By: Dana Brueck

Hispanics represent one of the fastest growing communities in the country. The Hispanic population reached more than 41 million one year ago, and the community is growing in Dane County as well.
Fiesta Hispana visitor Carole Pingel says the event "just sounded fun."
This is the sound of Fiesta Hispana.
"The appeal is to be among friends and to celebrate a wonderful culture," Peter Munoz says.
Madison's Fiesta Hispana at Warner Park celebrates everything Latino ... from the wares ... to the food ... to the entertainment.
Munoz is the director of Centro Hispano of Dane County -- an organization dedicated to improving life for the area's growing Hispanic population.
"The growth of the Latino community is just tremendous," Munoz says.
Census figures from 2000 show 4 percent of people in Madison reporting Hispanic or Latino origins.
"We're trying to put our fingers on it, but it's really hard," Munoz says.
Some say government figures underestimate the number of Latinos in Dane County.
Latino Chamber of Commerce President Cathy Smith says about 50, 000 call the area home.
"It's becoming a very powerful community," Smith says.
And a new show of force is the chamber with several hundred members.
"Beyond strengthening the rich fabric of our community culturally, I think they bring a zest for life, zest to really take advantage ... to be a participant in American way of life," Munoz says.
But that American way of life has its challenges.
Smith says, "Even in the school system, the differences are there ... They need different kinds of school supplies that are bilingual."
Smith and others consider language one of the biggest barriers.
Officer Carlos Valentin came to Madison from Puerto Rico. He tries to cross that barrier with programs like Friends in Blue.
"Amigos in Azul, Friends in Blue .. the idea is we are here to help ... Yes we represent the law, but besides that we are here to help community," Valentin says.
A growing community that some say needs support but also has plenty to give. Fiesta Hispana wraps up Saturday evening with fireworks at the Mallards baseball game.


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