Sunday’s Latino Cultural Festival in downtown Hillsboro drew an estimated 5,000 people — not bad at all for a 10-year birthday party.

Representatives of the Greater Hillsboro Area Chamber of Commerce, the primary organizer of the yearly celebration, said this year’s festival appeared to have the biggest turnout HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - The Huitzilin Cultural Group, which is based in Dayton, filled the plaza Sunday afternoon with Aztec dancing, music and costumes.

“This was one of the fullest participations we’ve had, and what a great way to celebrate 10 years!” said Deanna Palm, president of the chamber. “People were really wanting to celebrate our diversity.”

The sunny skies certainly HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - Forest Grove painter Plata Garza creates an abstract painting under the artists' tent during Sunday's Latino Cultural Festival in downtown Hillsboro.

“We just really lucked out to have a spectacular day,” Palm said.

Organizers said the primary objective of the festival is to build bridges of support between the area’s different communities.

“The goal is to reach more of the Latino community,” said Mary Loftin of the Hillsboro Parks & Recreation Department, who helped staff an informational booth at the event. “This is a wonderful venue to connect with the community.”by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - Dancers in colorful Aztec dress filled the Civic Center plaza with color and music as the annual Latino Cultural Festival got started Sunday.

Loftin said the city is hoping to encourage more Latinos to take advantage of the services being offered. For example, Loftin pointed out that the participation of Latino citizens in the senior center is not where it should be.

“We need a concerted effort to reach this community within the greater Hillsboro community, and we’re trying to reach out more,” she said. “There are programs Latinos don’t typically tap into, and we are letting them know we have a lot to offer.”

Noel Maldonado, who was born in Mexico, said his family moved to Hillsboro when he was 8, and he has fond memories of the festival from when he was younger.

“I remember coming here with my family when I was a kid,” he said. “I was raised in Hillsboro, and growing up here, you lose touch with some of your roots.”

Maldonado, who now works as a BLAST program (“Bringing Leadership, Arts and Sports Together”) site supervisor at Eastwood Elementary School, appreciates the breadth of the festival’s focus.

“It’s not only Mexican, but other Latin influences in the community — El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala — there is a focus on all different aspects of it. It’s great,” Maldonado said.

Although held in Hillsboro, the festival attracts people from all around the area, including Forest HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - Forest Grove painter Plata Garza creates an abstract painting under the artists' tent during Sunday's Latino Cultural Festival in downtown Hillsboro.

Plata Garza, a Forest Grove painter, was among those whose artwork was featured in the artists’ tent across from the Tom Hughes Civic Center Plaza. Garza said this year’s event was the second time his art had been featured at the festival, and he values the exposure.

“I was here five years ago as well,” said Garza, who was working on a colorful abstract painting.

Steve Callaway, a member of the Hillsboro City Council, was among those who showed up for the festival.

“I’ve been coming here off and on over 10 years and I’ve seen it grow,” Callaway said. “I love how many kids and schools are represented, and the turnout has grown and the crowds have grown. It brings people together. Look at how many children are here. You begin to realize the fullness within our community and the richness in our diversity.”

Retired Intel employee Rick Paulson said he appreciates the Latino Festival because it connects people from different parts of Hillsboro.

“I love taking pictures of events that bring people together,” he said. “This is probably one of the best opportunities in the whole year.”

Although he has lived in Hillsboro since 2001, this year’s event was just Paulson’s second time attending the festival. But he intends to keep coming now that he is aware of HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOHN SCHRAG - Guitarists with the Una Voz Mariachi Band rock the crowd with traditional music and song. The band is comprised entirely of students from the Hillsboro School District.

Changing perceptions

“Once you get started with something like this, you always look forward to going back again,” he said. “It’s a good place to get acquainted with people in general. This has the potential to change people’s perceptions (about different cultures).”by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOHN SCHRAG - Performer with the Forest Grove-based Ballet Mexico en la Piel dazzled the crowd in the plaza with traditional Mexican dance moves.

Despite this year’s sunny skies and warm temperatures — the thermometer reached 73 degrees Sunday afternoon — Palm said the chamber board would be looking at moving the festival to the summer or early fall in 2015 to make it more likely the outdoor festival would not be undercut by bad weather.

“We’ve had conversations on changing the date in the past. We’re looking at it from the standpoint of not having to have the conversation about weather every year,” she HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - In an exotic and dramatic display of movement and color, members of the Huitzilin Cultural Group danced in the Tom Hughes Civic Center Plaza during Sundays Latino Cultural Festival. The groups performances celebrate Aztec culture and traditions.

Whatever date is chosen for next year’s festival, Palm said the show would definitely go on, and she was gratified with this year’s strong turnout.

“We thank the community for its support of this event for 10 years,” Palm said. “The overall support of the community and sponsors is really nice.”

The chamber’s Jill Hult added that there seemed to be a true sense of celebration and joy in the air for this year’s festival.

“The only complaint I heard from anybody was, the food lines are too long,” Hult said.

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