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Festival's growth reflects increase in Hagerstown area's Hispanic population

September 22, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

HAGERSTOWN -- Only minutes after the second annual Hagerstown Hispanic Festival began at Fairgrounds Park, attendance already looked to have exceeded last year's numbers.

Organizer Diana Reyes said she wasn't surprised.

"We are expecting 2,000 to 3,000 people this year," said Reyes, a member of the Hispanic Association of Hagerstown, which hosted the festival.

Last year's festival drew about 350 people.

A celebration of Hispanic heritage meant to coincide with Hispanic Heritage Month, the Hagerstown festival's growth reflects recent growth in the local Hispanic population, said Sila Alegret-Bartel, a member of the Hispanic Association of Hagerstown.

"We have been growing very, very rapidly in recent years," Alegret-Bartel said.

U.S. Census data released in August shows that Washington County had the fastest-growing Hispanic population in Maryland between 2006 and 2007, the latest year for which data is available.

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The county's Hispanic population grew by 17.5 percent from July 2006 to July 2007.

Reyes said that growth is easy to see.

"You have more Hispanic restaurants, more people out and about," Reyes said.

She said the Hispanic work force is increasingly moving from eastern counties to Hagerstown because it is a "nice, quiet place to live."

The festival, Reyes said, is a direct result of that growth.

"We had seen other festivals nearby and realized the need for something here," Reyes said.

She, Alegret-Bartel and two other people started the Hispanic Association of Hagerstown.

The primary goal of the organization is to put on the festival, which can take about eight months to plan and costs about $3,000, Reyes said.

This year's festival included a soccer tournament, music, food, informational booths and activities for children.

As she sat down to eat tacos from a nearby food stand, Teresa Chavez said the festival is a good way to celebrate her culture with others.

"It's important to have these kind of events, to share with each other. This is the only one around here," Chavez said.

The Hispanic Association puts profits from the festival into a scholarship fund, which the group hopes to use this year for two HCC scholarships for Hispanic students.

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