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The Burlington Free Press
Parade, Panel Show Latino Culture
Burlington celebrates annual event
August 11, 2002
Two elements of Latino culture overlapped Saturday afternoon in Burlington.
A parade, led by boisterous drummers, marched down Church Street and ended in City Hall Park, where hundreds gathered and danced to the rhythmic beat. The drumming wafted into City Hall, where a smaller, more serious crowd had gathered to listen to a panel discussion about the Latino experience in Vermont and issues facing the culture in Latin America and around the world.
Panel organizer Luis Tijerina said the forum helped bring more gravity and weight to the annual Latino Festival, a three-day celebration of culture in Burlington now in its eighth year. This was the first panel discussion.
"That's the kind of superficial out there,'' Tijerina said as he listened to the drumming outside Contois Auditorium after the forum ended Saturday afternoon. ``There are issues in here that are really, really important.''
The 10 members of the panel spent about an hour and a half talking about a wide range of issues, from how the Latino community is perceived in Vermont to whether to end the decades-old economic embargo against Cuba. About 30 people attended the forum.
Fewer than 1 percent of Vermonters identified themselves as Hispanic or Latino on the 2000 U.S. Census. Although the Latino community has been increasing over the years, there is still an undercurrent of discrimination in the state, panelists said.
"I think there is a myth in Vermont that there is acceptance,'' said Hugo Martinez-Cazon.
He said there remains a problem of racial harassment in schools toward ethnic minorities that many school administrators are unwilling to address. Martinez-Cazon, who originally is from Argentina, said he's also heard quips and snide remarks about his race.
Vermont is one of the least diverse states in the country, according to the 2000 Census. As a result, Vermonters have little experience with other cultures, and that can lead to an overabundance of curiosity, said Leah Mital-Skiff. She said strangers often ask about her cultural background.
"It can be a bit intrusive,'' the New Mexico native said.
Not all the panelists had the same experiences. Azur Moulaert said he and his wife were attracted to Vermont's liberalism and Burlington's diversity. Moulaert, from Costa Rica, said he has found people to be less inquisitive in Vermont about his ancestry and more interested in him as an individual.
``The further north I've come,'' he said, ``the less people ask me where that accent's from, and more What do you do?'''
Panelists also considered their ties to Latin America. They said they'd like to see the United States stop the embargo against Cuba and the use of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques for bombing practice, citing both as examples of American colonialism.
At the end of the discussion, over the beat of the drums outside, panelists agreed to meet again and work toward forming an advocacy organization in Burlington to continue addressing Latino issues.
STATS: Hispanic populations in Vermont
Here is the number of residents by town in Chittenden County who identified themselves as Hispanic in the 2000 Census.
Here is a list of the number of residents by county in Vermont who identified themselves as Hispanic in the 2000 Census.