UMass Springfest a shining

Photo by Kory Vergets

Photo by Kory Vergets

Carl Brooks

Despite a nasty New England surprise turn to the weather, Casa Latina’s 6th Annual Spring Festival managed to pull out the stops and soldier through a brave and spirited afternoon of Latin and Caribbean music, dancing, and food. Several hundred hungry UMass faithful turned out to chow down on the impressive food spread and watch a panoply of performers strut their stuff under the sheltering canopy of the Wheatley building. Organizers and students were cheerful despite drizzly gray skies and cold breezes.

Springfest was a big event this year, with a Pan-Caribbean theme that included a steel band from Trinidad and Tobago, reggae singers and bright yellow Chiquita hats that bobbed with fruit and brought a dash of color to the proceedings. Onlookers cheered and clapped for four young ladies in elaborate costumes that featured sparkling gold trim and immense headdresses. The costumes are a traditional part of Latin and Caribbean festival tradition and despite the chill the dancers were energetic enough to entice volunteers from the crowd to join them.

The scene was a typical one for UMass events as onlookers crowded tables packed with food from popular JP restaurant El Orientale de Cuba. An event organizer was forced to take command and order from the stage, “I need you more orderly or no one’s getting food! You all need to clear it up, yes, you at the table to the left,” Fortunately for the hungry, lines were swiftly formed.

None of the myriad acts that followed looked chilly once they got moving and the stage was hot even as the audience shivered. The Casa Latina Dancers shook it to Latino-pop and traditional troupe Latin Sensation rumba’d in antique Puerto Rican costumes. Games were played, and, familiar to anyone who’s been to an Italian wedding, a spirited, Latin-inflected Chicken dance. Bigwig Salsa hero Cesar Romero capped it off with his brass ensemble.

Associate Coordinator of Casa Latina Francisco Toro explained the scale of the event, “This was about $8,000 overall and we got 40% from donations. It’s a mix of cultures, Caribbean, South American, it’s all together.” The elaborate stage and first rate sound setup and the very generous spread at the buffet showed they spent their money well, and the shaking and the sound went on well past the nominal six o’clock cut-off, proving that even the damp and grouchy UMB student can enjoy himself when there’s a bash this size.

The event was planned and organized by a long list of organizations and individuals. The Africana Studies Dept, CPCS, and Hispanic Studies were all sponsors, but this year’s instigators were actually performers eager to strut at UMB. “Actually, the bands approached us” says Toro, “and so many groups helped out that it’s amazing.” One of the themes of the afternoon was the creation of a new Caribbean Student Center this fall.