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Cultures come together at Hispanic Heritage Month celebration

New London — As they swung their traditional skirts high from side to side, the layers of yellow, pink, blue and red gave the illusion the young dancers had colorful outstretched wings.

The dancers were a Colombian group from Groton, tapping their feet to "Checurrulao" by Checo Acosta and a folkloric dance deriving from the Pacific region of Colombia.

The father of one of the young dancers, Juan Carlos Garcia, said his daughter loves to dance and that it was important to share their culture to show how different cultures can be, that even in Colombia the culture varies by region.

The Colombian dancers were one of many acts performing Sunday for Taino Productions' Hispanic Heritage celebration event at Hygienic Park in New London.

Taino Productions, established in 2018, is a local organization that plans cultural events, connecting Hispanic and Latino cultures to the greater community. Willi Quinones, the founder of Taino, said he started the Hispanic Heritage event three years ago when he partnered with a local photographer for a photo exhibition called "Aqui Estamos," or We are Here.

The photos, scattered throughout the park on Sunday, are black and white portraits of local people holding the only thing that pops with color, the flags of their countries.

"We have to uphold our roots and be proud," said Jose Mateo, secretary of the Dominican Association of New London, hosting a table at the event in support. Mateo's daughters are featured in the photo exhibit, clutching the Dominican Republic's flag in their hands.

Quinones, who is of Puerto Rican descent, said it was important to him to do the event "to continue to educate the community at large but also so our youth does not forget our heritage and culture."

Over the years, the Hispanic Heritage celebration event has broadened to showcase a diverse set of performances. Apart from the Colombian group, this year's performances included a Peruvian folkloric dance to "Alegria a la Selva" by the local dance school Yawar Llajta; an Argentinian folk dance called Chacarera and the band, Joe Diaz y El Grupo Boriken, performing Puerto Rican native music.

Playing the role traditionally done by a man, Claudia Bouchard and her daughter Sarabeth of Waterford danced the Argentinian Chacarera. Claudia said the basic idea of the dance is the courtship between a man and a woman. Dressed in a traditional dress with a blue and white sash across her waist, Sarabeth, 19, said she strongly identifies with her culture and that taking part in it connects her with her mother and family in Argentina.

At Sunday's event, Mayor Michael Passero and state Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London, also recognized the owners of six local barbershops for volunteering and offering free haircuts in the Back 2 School event Sept. 6.

For Quinones, the coming together of different Hispanic and Latino cultures into the community is what he always envisioned for Taino's events.

He said the biggest issue within the community at large was that not everyone felt comfortable attending events like Sunday's celebration even though they may not identify with it. Taino sets out to "bridge the gaps" and bring communities together.

Taino is collaborating with Hygienic Park again this month for the return of their Salsa con Guayabera event, where those attending can take salsa dance lessons and listen to a live salsa orchestra. The event is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 8.



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