North Florida Hispanic Festival turns 20

The St. Luis Catholic Church hosted the 20th annual North Florida Hispanic Festival, Saturday.

This festival continued the celebration of National Hispanic Heritage month, which lasts from Sept.15 to Oct. 15.

The month-long celebration begins in the middle of September because five Latin-American Countries, Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, officially proclaimed their independence from Spain by signing the Acta de Independencia (Act of Independence) on Sept. 15, 1821.

Olga Castillo-Schmidt, the president of the North Florida Hispanic Association, who is from Costa Rica, said she wants to share the diverse culture of all the Latin-American countries.

“We bring Latin America Culture, right here every year to share the incredible food that all our vendors cook as well as the artisans who make gifts,” Castillo-Schmidt said.

Emcee Alejandro Victoria kicked off the festival with an introduction from all the Latin countries in the parade of nations. Every Latin American country was represented by the waving of its country flag.

Rosa Perez, a Tallahassee Community College student from Venezuela, said she appreciates the unity the festival brings.

“I love being at the festival,” Perez said. “My mom does it every year. We make empanadas, which is a traditional fried dish made up of corn, ham and cheese and your choice of chicken or beef.”

Si, Español and togetherness were the themes of this year’s festival.

“The nice thing about this festival is that we bring everybody together,” Castillo-Schmidt said. “It’s not so much about a big party but about experiencing the cultural side of all the different countries.”

Festival vendors represented different countries and cooked different traditional meals. Empanadas and tacos were two common dishes.

Rikiasha Hollins, a Rickards High School junior, said she enjoyed the cuisine.

“I have a general interest in the Hispanic culture, it’s so rich and familiar,” Hollins said. “I love Salsa and I’m looking forward to trying different flan today.”

Hallacas, Tumba Rancho and Mandongo were traditional dishes on the menu, but Gaby Mielnik, owner of Eat a Cookie, decided to showcase her cookies and cakes.

“I make traditional cookies and cakes. I try to infuse both Mexican and U.S. cultures,” Mielnik said. “I made skull sugar cookies to celebrate El Dia de los Muertos which is the equivalent to Halloween in the U.S.”

The audience was very interactive and danced to Latin music by DJ Sonido la Rumba. The crowd participated in Latin Zumba by Randy. Latin rhythm was fused with Zumba moves.

Jane Marks, the wife of Tallahassee Mayor John Marks, presented The North Florida Association a 20th year proclamation on the mayor’s behalf.

“We appreciate and love you as much as you love being here,” Marks said. “We ask that all citizens join us in honoring the proud history of the Hispanic people. We would like to congratulate the North Florida Hispanic Association and its members for their many contributions to our community and celebration of National Hispanic Heritage month.”

For more information on the North Florida Hispanic Association please visit