SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – The South Plainfield Public Library – in continuing its commitment to educating the community on ethnic and social diversity – along with the South Plainfield Cultural Arts Commission (SPCAC) and the South Plainfield School District, held its second annual Hispanic Heritage Month program on Sept. 21. Over 200 residents of all ages attended the event, which was held at the senior center and provided an in depth look into the culture through dance, food, history and more. 

Celebrated annually from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, Mes de la Herencia Hispana - Hispanic Heritage Month – recognizes the contributions and important presence of Hispanic and Latin Americans in the United States and, on a local level, an informal comprised of Latina community members worked to develop a program that focused on all different aspects of Hispanic culture. 

 “As South Plainfield is growing in its diversity it was specifically important that the committee reflect that growth,” said Juana Lopez-Hirsch, a resident who, along with Jailene Betancourt, a part-time bilingual library assistant; Rosa Vasquez Zaremba, a member of the SPCAC; and Aura Salazar with the South Plainfield School District, worked to organize the program. 

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Throughout the three-hour event, professional dancers from Alma Montuno Latín Dance hit the floor for a salsa/merengue mix dance and instructor Elvis Ruiz conducted a salsa lesson. Children and teens with the Ecuadorian-Mexican group Tonantzin also performed the Danza Cañari, a traditional Ecuadorian dance, and the La Polka, a Czechoslovakia dance brought to Mexico during colonial times. 

Support for and participation in this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebration was also provided by several of the school district’s Spanish teachers and students. Middle School teachers Aura Salazar and Paula Rendon and Grant teacher Lizbet Arriola held a cultural session that included a display and explanation of Latin American artifacts. 

South Plainfield High School students in Leo Perero’s class also participated with Karla Meda reciting a poem by Pablo Neruda and Ashley Mangandi singing “Creo en Mi” by Natalia Jimenez. Salazar’s and Rendon’s middle school students performed and danced to ‘Guantanamera’ and ‘La Gozadera’ and fifth graders in Arriola’s class danced to ‘Vivir mi Vida’ by Marc Anthony as well as performed the Spanish tongue twister ‘Compadre Cómprame un Coco” and sang “Como Están’ and “Adiós Mis Amigos. Additionally, some of Rachel Klausner’s elementary students also performed ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ in Spanish as well ‘Hola Amigos.’

“I was delighted and honored to be part of South Plainfield’s Hispanic Heritage celebration. Our students felt proud to perform their poems, songs, and dances for their parents, community members, and educators.,” said Salazar, adding, “This coalescence demonstrated the wonderful diverse community we all should be proud to be a part of.”

During this year's event, South Plainfield Mayor Matt Anesh and members of the borough council presented the committee with a proclamation in recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month and attendees also had the opportunity to sample some traditional Latin American foods, with items purchased by the library and SPCAC as well as donated by local restaurants.

The menu included flautas and fajitas from Casa Romero; chicken and beef empanadas, sweet plantains, arroz con pollo from Orlando’s BBQ; chicken and picadera, flan, and arroz con pollo from Antojos Ticos; Spanish fries from Paulo’s BBQ; and chicken and rice from both Longhorn Steakhouse and Paulo’s.

“It was an amazing day to see all of our patrons, especially the children, learn about different countries, try new foods and learn dances,” said Betancourt. “Hispanic heritage is all about coming together to celebrate and learn about Latin history and culture.”

“As a long time resident of South Plainfield and proud Latina it warmed my heart to be a part of and celebrate Latino/a heritage with my fellow South Plainfielders,” said Lopez-Hirsch. 

“The greatness of a culture can be found in its celebration. It was wonderful seeing all backgrounds of people celebrating, having fun, and indulging in Hispanic food,” said Vasquez Zaremba. 

Patrons interested in learning more about Spanish history and culture are encouraged to stop by the library throughout Hispanic Heritage Month. Along with fiction and non-fiction reading materials, cardholders access to online Spanish language programming through Pongalo (https://pongalo.com) as well as the opportunity to learn Spanish and/or Portuguese through the Rosetta Stone online database. South Plainfield Library patrons can also download Latin music and videos through Freegal (https://southplainfield.freegalmusic.com/home) as well as download ebooks and audiobooks through eLibrary NJ (https://elibrarynj.overdrive.com).

“As a library, our goal is to provide information and education the community. We are happy to hold programs like this that provide a first-hand look – and taste - into different cultures,” said Hansen. 

In addition to the Hispanic Heritage program, the library also holds annual events to celebrate Diwali, Holi, Chinese New Year, Eid-al-Fitr, and African American history along with special culturally-themed story times throughout the year.

“It is evident that our town is growing in its diversity and I am excited to celebrate all of our rich and beautiful cultures,” said Lopez-Hirsch. 

"I'm glad to see South Plainfield embracing their community members of diverse backgrounds. An inclusive and diverse town leads to amazing experience for everyone, especially for our kids," said Vasquez Zaremba.

Betancourt added, “It’s important to remind our youth that we live in a diverse town, and how fun it can be to try new things and learn about different cultures.”

About Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month (https://www.hispanicheritagemonth.org) begins each year on Sept. 15 – the anniversary of independence of five Latin American countries (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua) – and concludes Oct. 15. Mexico, Chile and Belize celebrate their independence days during this period and Columbus Day (Día de la Raza). The theme of Hispanic Heritage Month 2018, set by the National Council of Hispanic Employment Program Managers (NCHEPM), is ‘Hispanics: One Endless Voice to Enhance our Traditions;’ the goal of this theme is to reflect on Hispanic American’s tradition, history and culture. 

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