Despite a planning blunder with Annapolis that nearly ambushed the area's first Latino festival, set for today at the county-owned Quiet Waters Park, festival organizers and city officials say they will try to work together next year to stage the festival in the state capital.
"We have to go constructively forward. We have no intention [of] wasting time finding blame with the city," said Rick Ferrell, Cuban-American president of the Organization of Hispanic/Latin Americans of Anne Arundel County (OHLA), the festival's sponsor.
"We're going to look at the good things that happened and just move on," he said.
Festival Annapo-Latina, sponsored by OHLA, will feature arts and crafts, food vendors, a job fair, a voter registration table, displays from government agencies, and - perhaps the biggest draw - five bands representing a range of Latin music. Admission and parking are free, and hours are from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
The festival had been planned since the fall for the city's Truxtun Park, but city officials turned down the request for a permit April 27, noting concerns about the availability of police with other major events taking place around town today, including the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Walk.
The event was rescued four days later by County Executive Janet S. Owens and the county Department of Recreation and Parks, which offered the picturesque Quiet Waters Park as a venue, about two miles south of the planned location, just outside the city limits.
"We certainly look forward to planning with them for next year, with planning being the operative word," said city spokesman Thomas W. Roskelly, who had originally worked with OHLA to plan today's event. "I'd rather work on the second annual anything, because with the first annual, you don't have that experience on the ground."
Poor communication blamed
City officials blamed poor communication for the permit denial, saying festival organizers failed to keep them properly informed of the event's scope and did not file a request for a parade-rally permit until 13 days before the event.
Annapolis Police Chief Joseph J. Johnson said he wasn't informed about the event until the permit was filed. City Recreation and Parks Director LeeAnn Bogan, who gave OHLA approval for May 6 in November, said she thought the festival would be a "small event" and did not envision a conflict with the Bay Bridge Walk.
OHLA kept the city informed, Ferrell said, adding that he did not know a permit was required until Roskelly told him three days before a April 27 permit-review hearing. At the hearing, four aldermen and various city department heads denied the permit, noting noise and safety concerns.
Referring to the hearing date as "black Friday," Ferrell has criticized the aldermen who attended the meeting, saying that Hispanics were being treated unfairly and that it highlighted the need for a Hispanic member on the city council.
Ferrell concedes he has limited experience in planning events but said Mayor Dean L. Johnson pledged to support the event. "You go to the head [of the city] and you say, 'Can I do this?' and the head says, 'Do it.' ... That's my ignorance."
"I think that in other cultures, if the person they perceive as being the boss says something is OK, they accept that and don't necessarily know there is a process involved," said Ward 4 Alderman Joseph Sachs, who attended the meeting. "I don't think either side is blameless."
In the spirit of today's event, Ferrell says he wants to put the confusion behind him and increase understanding between Hispanics and non-Hispanics.
The festival aims to expose people to the range of identities and heritages that constitute the county's burgeoning Hispanic community, from Puerto Ricans and Cubans to Mexicans and people from almost every country in South and Central America.
During the past decade, the county's Hispanic population has grown 89 percent, from 6,815 to 12,902. The total Hispanic population in Annapolis has increased from 483 to 2,301 in 1990, according to the latest U.S. Census data. Hispanic community leaders say the growth figures are understated, and they estimate that 25,000 to 30,000 Hispanics live in the county.
OHLA, an Annapolis-based nonprofit group aimed at helping newly arrived Hispanics gain access to social services and integrate into American life, has been promoting the event since March.
The musical acts include the Mystic Warriors, an Ecuadorian Incan group that plays music of members' native Andes highland; Las Estrellas (Spanish for "The Stars"), a mariachi band; the salsa sounds of Orquesta Internacional Zeniza; the reggae, calypso and African rhythms of the Annapolis band Mama Jamma; and the Afro-Caribbean, jazz and merengue rhythms band Rumba Club.
The event is expected to draw 1,000 to 1,500 people. Organizers said two school buses will be on hand to shuttle patrons between the Truxtun Park area and the festival grounds.
Organizers said they hope festival-goers will leave with a favorable impression of the Hispanic community and learn how varied the Spanish-speaking diaspora is. "We're all in this boat together, and we have to make more of an effort to be racially united," Ferrell said. "I want to see Americans and Latinos dancing together."
Sun staff writer Amanda J. Crawford contributed to this article.