By Jeremy Porter, Staff Writer
On Friday, the south end of Carlisle Street from the railroad tracks to The Pub was quite a sight: the pavement was covered in colorful chalk drawings, white tents were illuminated by strings of festive lights, children with painted faces did arts and crafts and played with friends, a live band performed on a stage, and crowds of Gettysburg residents and college students alike danced for hours on end. The event was the 11th annual “Salsa on the Square,” held by Project Gettysburg-Léon in partnership with other local organizations, such as the Gettysburg Borough Council, the Borough police, the Gettysburg Hotel, Casa de la Cultura (an initiative of Project Gettysburg-Léon that promotes Latino culture and immigrant rights), and the college’s Center for Public Service, according to the event’s student coordinator Marina Fleites.
Salsa on the Square is a celebration of Gettysburg’s Latino population and its contributions to the local community, in addition to the sister city relationship between Gettysburg and Léon, Nicaragua, the second most populous city in that country. Project Gettysburg-Léon is a nonprofit sister city organization that, says a mission statement on its website, “empowers people, communities, and organizations to advance sustainable development through capacity – building funds, education, and cultural exchange programs.” Created in 1986, the organization stems from trips to Nicaragua sponsored by the college in the 1980s, in the midst of the US-backed “Contras” rebellions against the country’s socialist government.
Those who went on the trips observed the widespread poverty in the nation and the effects of American intervention in Nicaraguan politics and daily life, and were inspired to establish a relationship of mutual cultural understanding between the two cities – an official sister city partnership was established in 1989. Since then, the organization has worked towards fostering awareness of life in Latin America and the Latino community in Gettysburg, and Salsa on the Square is easily one of their most popular and collaborative events. In addition to town volunteers and groups, about 75 Gettysburg College students, many part of the Center for Public Service, volunteered their time to work the event, Fleites said. The college’s Spanish department, in particular, was critical in recruiting these volunteers.
This year’s Salsa on the Square, like in years past, featured Hector Rosado and the Orquesta A-CHE, a live salsa band, as well as DJ Solalinda, so music was constantly playing during the event. Food vendors, for which there were long lines of attendees, included Casa de la Cultura, El Costeño Mexican restaurant, the Ragged Edge Coffee House, and the college’s Servo Truck, all local to Gettysburg. Francisco Obadiah Campbell Hooker, the Nicaraguan ambassador to the United States, attended and offered remarks, as did Gettysburg mayor Theodore Streeter.
At the heart of the event, as evidenced by its name, was salsa dancing. People of all ages and ethnicities, even those who did not know how to salsa, took each other’s arms and moved to the Latin rhythms that resonated through the streets of Gettysburg. It was clear, once again, that Project Gettysburg-Léon achieved its goal with this event: hundreds of people from different backgrounds came together to celebrate a culture and a community that has a significant presence in Gettysburg. The organization hopes that, through song and dance, the people of Gettysburg will get a clearer picture of life for both Latinos and those living in Latin America.