Two festivals to recognize the contributions of Hispanic residents

LOWELL – As National Hispanic Heritage Month ends on October 15, the city will join in the celebration with the first Latin Film Festival at Middlesex Community College’s Donahue Academic Arts Center on Friday and Saturday.

The festival is the culmination of Lowell’s month-long recognition of its nearly 19,000 Hispanic residents.

At the center of this festival, El Encuentro: The Latino Film Experience, is second-generation Puerto Rican Michelle Rivera, who is the founder and main organizer of the event. Long before this weekend’s film festival, Rivera had already made her mark on the city’s cultural and business landscape.

Latinos make up 17.8% of the city’s ethnic makeup, compared to 12% of the state’s total population, according to 2020 U.S. Census data. The contributions made by Latinos today and historically cannot be neglected, from bodegas to business leaders to military veterans. But despite this important level of the constituency, there are no elected officials in the city of Latin descent.

Rivera’s influence also probes the political arena. Formerly the campaign manager of Alexandra Amparo Del Villar, whose unsuccessful bid for city council in 2019 marked the first notable Hispanic effort to put a foot in local leadership, Rivera urged Latinos to vote. Building on the successful outcome of the 2018 consent decree decision, Lowell was forced to expand its board, providing more opportunities for new applicants.

“There was an expectation, from the lawsuit about the voting process, to have a more diverse city council,” she said.

This expectation has not been met. The city council grew from eight members to 11, but even with this expansion, no Latinos were elected to the council or school committee. Rivera also places some of the blame on the Hispanic community itself for not supporting candidates who would represent their best interest.

The lifelong Lobellian was also a radio host at WCAP, where she provided a weekly take on all things Latino in the Merrimack Valley. From this platform, Rivera expressed the need for encounters, or encuentros in Spanish.

“We want to meet each other, meet our neighbors in the community and have new experiences,” Rivera said.

From this idea and from his own personal encounters, the idea of ​​the film festival was born last October. With a generous donation from the Lowell Cultural Council, guided by Rivera and his partners as well as local sponsors, the event was underway.

Rivera has made his mark in the real estate industry and is just one of many high profile business leaders with genetic ties to Latin America. Through her professional work and public service, she has helped Latinos buy homes, find jobs, scholarships, discover English classes, and emerge from the shadows as valued members of society. It is also the mission of the film festival, “to offer a place for Latino filmmakers to present their work”.

On Saturdays, concurrent with the film festival, is the Lowell Hispanic & Latinx Festival from 1-7 p.m. at North Common Park near Fletcher Street. Both events celebrate the different cultures of Latin America – not just ethnicity as a whole, but the differences within that sphere.

The one-day event, hosted by the Latinx Community Center for Empowerment, aims to celebrate and unify the Latinx community, executive director Diego Leonardo said.

“This is the first time we’ve hosted and the first time the city has recognized Hispanic Heritage Month,” he said.

Live music from countries such as the Dominican Republic, Colombia and Peru will get attendees dancing. Performances will include Boston’s Mariachi Estrellas, Sonn de mi Tierra, AfroDominicano, Salsa in Lowell, and Grooversity, among others. Food vendors from local restaurants and civic groups will also be set up around the site.

“We have been divided for so long,” Leonardo said. “We want to bring everyone together to understand our differences.”

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