ORANGE, NJ — Hispanic Heritage Month runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, and was celebrated at the ninth annual Festival de Orange on South Day Street on Saturday, Sept. 23, and Sunday, Sept. 24.
The event was organized by Hispanos Mano a Mano President Cristina Mateo along with Marcos Monroy, Henry Monroy and Gregorio Leon. Together, they transformed the area of South Day Street, stretching from Freeway Drive East along U.S. Route 280 to Henry Street, into a cultural wonderland for Hispanics and others for two days. The weekend was filled with Hispanic food, music and culture, as well as carnival-style rides and attractions for adults and children of all ages.
North Bergen-based businessman Francisco Martinez was named the honorary “padrino” or “godfather” of this year’s festival and Analicia Rubi was named “madrina” or “godmother.”
“Right now, we have four stages in about a block of town, four stages and they are packed. Next year is going to be even better,” said Mateo on Sunday, Sept. 24, the second day of the festival. “There’s many, many people and opportunities for people to get on the stage. So if you can get on the stage and you want to get on the stage next year, we want you here.”
“I’m from El Salvador and I’m at the Salvadorian festival in Orange,” said Leda Melara on Sunday, Sept. 24, at the festival. “This is our culture right here, everything you want to know; pupusas, churros, tamales. A lot of good food. Come out here. It’s good stuff.”
Melara was very excited, saying that anyone surprised to see so many Salvadoran Americans in one place at one time in the United States shouldn’t have been at all.
“There is a lot in Orange and also in Elizabeth nearby in Perth Amboy, Plainfield. We’re a big community in the (United States) and contribute to the society here and to the economy,” said Melara. “We live in a multicultural society so, hey, let’s just open our arms. We’re here to stay.”
Mateo shared Melara’s sentiments about the festival and it’s appeal to many different people.
“It’s not just El Salvadorean. They are Salvadorean, Honduran, Nicaraguan; they are also from Costa Rica, Guatemala and they are also from Mexico. So we are celebrating here the independence of Mexico and Central America,” Mateo said. “We’re celebrating the Hispanic heritage overall here. It doesn’t matter. Latino, Hispanic, however you want to call us, but we’re all one people.”
Martinez expressed optimism about the prospects for Hispanic immigrants in the United States.
“I’m so proud. I really appreciate it. For me, it’s an honor to be a padrino and we encourage everybody to come. Come join us and see what our culture is all about. Come see us, come enjoy the food, the music and have a good time with us,” said Martinez on Sunday, Sept. 24. “All I can say to all those people who are looking for a home in this country is be patient. Be patient. Work hard. Something is coming. We cannot be like that all the time. I’m sure the government is going to think about something to help them so be patient and work hard.”
Mateo agreed and said Martinez and Rubi’s words about what it means to be Hispanic here in the United States and in their respective countries are the reasons why she chose to honor them by naming them padrino and madrino of the ninth annual Festival de Orange.
“When I sent them the invitations to be part of the festival, to be the godparents of the festival, they right away said ‘yes,’ because they’re very proud to be Hispanic,” said Mateo. “And that’s what we’re celebrating here, the Hispanic heritage overall.”