Festival to celebrate neighborhood's diverse cultures; Two-day event focuses attention on Spanish Town


A week after and a block from the Fells Point Festival -- one of the city's most popular street fairs -- the hardscrabble business district unofficially known as Spanish Town will play host to a fair this weekend.

The 3rd Annual Festival of Nations -- on South Broadway, from Pratt to Bank streets -- is billed as a celebration of Baltimore's diverse cultures. Organizers also hope to highlight the international flavor of the neighborhood. -- From 11 a.m to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, the smell of roasting papusas -- pancake-like Salvadoran treats stuffed with pork and cheese -- will mingle with spicy Korean barbecue, rotisserie chicken, Indian spices and other treats dished out from the fair's 10 booths.

Entertainment, much of it Latino influenced, will be performed on a stage at Pratt and Broadway.

"It will have some spice," said Enrique Ribadeneira, one of the festival's organizers. "You want to see something, come see La Predilelta, a salsa band; or Melao, doing salsa. These are some of the hottest Latin bands in the area."

Jose Flores -- president of the Hispanic Business Association, which is mostly responsible for putting on the festival -- said he hopes it builds a new image for the struggling strip of Broadway.

In the last decade, the neighborhood has becomeone of the most diverse in the city. Even so, said Ribadeneira, it suffers from a lack of exposure.

Energized street

Though somewhat rundown -- with cracking, uneven sidewalks, sickly trees, and weather-beaten stores -- the street radiates energy. Shoppers, many from Latin America, pop in and out of shops during the day.They buy groceries, plan trips to their homelands, talk about where to find work, or just socialize. Spanish is always in the air: "Amigo, amigo, como estas!"

Many of the business people are first-generation immigrantsfrom Latin America and Asia. They work side-by-side with the folks people here call "the old timers": white store owners, some of whom have had shops on this part of Broadway for decades. They are few in number, but do steady business, some by changing their emphasis to suit an international clientele.

Old meets new

The names of businesses tell a lot about this street. Restaurante El Salvadore, Don Pedro's Musica Latina, Valdemar Travel and Indo-Pak Grocery have opened in recent years. They rub shoulders with the Baltimore Gunsmith Co., which has been open since 1904, and the Self Reliance Federal Credit Union, which serves the Polish community.

"There is a special thing going on in Spanish Town," said Flores. "We just want people to see and feel the beautiful things that are happening there, that's the purpose" of the festival.

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