It was the first of what organizer Juan Carlos Ruiz hopes will become an annual event celebrating the diversity and cultural art traditions of Native Americans and 17 Latin American countries including Argentina, Cuba, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru and others.
Nelida Perez, who wore a traditional outfit from her native Peru, said she wants the community to learn about her country’s dances, three distinct regions and wonderful food, adding that Peru recently celebrated the 192nd anniversary of its independence.
“We are here representing Peru and teaching people about our beautiful country and customs,” said Perez in Spanish.
People often lump Latin groups together, assuming they’re all the same, said Ruiz, so he created the event in part to showcase their diversity.
“It’s a beautiful way to show America our traditions and culture and also share with them that we Latinos are not the same; there’s a lot of richness that we can share with the American community and our own kids,” Ruiz said.
Jose Olivares, 83, was happy to walk a few blocks from his home to witness the parade. He arrived in Milwaukee in 1953, fresh out of the military.
“It’s nice to see so many different cultures being celebrated out here; I don’t remember anything else like this,” said Olivares, grinning from ear to ear.
Elizabeth Kostichka came from Green Bay to see her daughter Jackilyn, who attends UW-Milwaukee, march with the Ballet Folklorico Mexico de los Hermanos Avila, a local dance troupe. Kostichka said for diverse cultures to get along, it’s important they learn about each other. That way, “we will all learn to respect each other.”
The crowd, sparse in some areas and thicker in others, swelled when the parade concluded with a celebration in the parking lot of the Wherehouse nightclub, 818 S. Water St. There, thousands gathered as the celebration culminated with speeches, drumming, music and more celebration of Latin culture.
Luis Acosta, from Venezuela, said it was great to see people embracing the diversity within Latin America here in the United States.
“Even though we speak almost the same language, we are very different,” said Acosta.
His young daughter Andrea added, “I want people to know that my country is strong and powerful and it’s amazing and you should go there.”