October is Latin American Heritage Month and we got the chance to chat with Pablo Zacarias and Camilo Betancourt from Latincouver about how this year’s celebration events have changed because of COVID-19. With most of this year’s events being hosted online, Latincouver is working hard to make sure its community knows they are there to support others. Check out our conversation below!
Can you tell us about Latincouver and what your organization does?
P: Latincouver is a non-profit organization that, for over a decade, has been catering the Latino community in different ways. The main thing we are known for is the Carnaval del Sol, the biggest Latin American festival in the Pacific Northwest, which we have done every summer for over a decade. Except for this year, of course — we had to transform it into an online series on YouTube which was Carnaval del Sol: Across the Americas and a series of small events with live Latino music in restaurants across Metro Vancouver called Carnaval del Sol in Restaurants. So, we work with cultural activities and we have the Latin Canadian Business Network which is a space for newcomers and Canadians who want to do business in Latin America or find ways to bridge and find partners.
We work a lot with volunteers, to support them and give them their first Canadian experience. We also have ongoing projects for climate education and bridging inter-indigenous wisdom from Canada to Latin America. Making these connections is what we do. We bring the Latino Community to Vancouver and to all of Canada.
Right now, we’re celebrating Latin American Heritage Month, which was officially declared in Canada in 2018.
How did you both get involved with Latincouver?
P: I’m the project manager of Latincouver and I’ve been with the organization since December 2019. Previous to that, I was in Mexico and I met Paola Murillo, the executive director, and I joined the team to organize the events, produce the Carnaval del Sol — reassess it, replan it — and now develop a series of activities. I’m very thankful for this organization which has given me the trust to have my first Canadian experience and develop some ideas and projects. I feel that I am doing something very meaningful here.
C: I’m the event coordinator and joined Latincouver about two or three months ago. I organize all the events for Latin American Heritage Month. Before I joined, I was living in Toronto and after the Pandemic, I moved to Vancouver and started volunteering with Latincouver. I find what we do is very interesting and meaningful, so I began working and now I’m just focusing on the events for Latin Heritage Month.
Tell us about your team.
P: We’re mostly a volunteer-run organization. We have a core team, marketing manager, an HR coordinator, a general director, finance manager and administration team. But we mostly rely on volunteers, amazing volunteers from all over the world, not only from Latin America that support us in our duties. We have a bunch of people from Brazil, we have people from India, from China, from Taiwan—
P: Ukraine too. We’re from all over.
Tell us more about some of the events Latincouver is hosting for Heritage Month.
C: It’s hard to choose because we’ve been working quite hard on all of them.
One of the upcoming ones we’d like to highlight is the Latin American Female Writers event. We are promoting Latin American female writers and they will be telling us what their experience was like working as a writer abroad with a different language than their mother tongue. They’ll talk about the challenges, the good things, the things that inspired them to become writers. They will also be sharing with us a segment of their work, such as a chapter of a book that they’ve written or some poems.
We would also like to highlight an event on the 31st of October, a workshop, about a commemorative mural that will be done in the Lonsdale Quay Market in North Vancouver. That mural should be ready by the end of the month, and we’re going to have an online workshop with the artist who painted it and she will tell us about the process of creating it, the meaning behind every single element within the mural.
P: An event that I would love to highlight is one about spiritual healing from the perspective of Afro and Indigenous women in Columbia. This is going to be a beautiful event that will happen on Oct 29th.
We also have a series of Latin American artist workshops, so people can sign up for free and they can learn anything from playing guitar to painting. One of the workshops that I’m really happy to have is from one of Mexico’s top illustrators, David Espinosa, and that will be happening October 30th.
This year, we’re celebrating female creators, female writers and giving presence to the BIPOC Indigenous female population as well, so we tried to bring on mainly female artists to run the workshops. We have a couple of male artists as well — Kin Balam, who is an indigenous guitar performer and will be giving a workshop on the basics of Latin guitar.
We also have a mandate to promote diversity and to combat discrimination and racism so we also added workshops that are more focused on coping as an immigrant in Canada, and how to deal with racism in COVID-19, which has been on the rise. We also had a comedy night the other day as well, so it’s all over the place.
What are some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome planning events for this year’s celebrations?
P: I think the biggest challenge is that, as an event promoter or organizer, you’re already competing with other events, but once you transform yourself into an online event producer then you’re competing with anything that’s on the screen. Now, we’re trying to get people’s attention and our competition is Netflix, Disney… Maybe one day people don’t feel like connecting to a workshop because they’ve had enough screen time. Getting people’s screen attention has been quite a challenge in a way.
Also, the spirit of Latincouver comes from the plaza, the idea of a town square where people get together and make connections and relations. Maybe you do business, maybe there’s an artist playing, maybe you eat something, maybe you dance a little bit. Some of that experience has to do with physically being together. The other day, Camillo facilitated a catrina decorating workshop with Carmen Keitsch, a Mexican-Canadian painter, and it was complicated to get that workshop feeling of painting together.
C: Getting their feedback is also not the same. When you’re at a physical event you can see people’s reactions, you can interact with them, you can involve all the senses in that experience. But if we’re doing it online it’s harder to engage people. The things you can do to keep people engaged during long periods of time is very limited.
P: And, of course, not being able to do physical events is also a challenge because part of our fundraising comes from ticket sales. That’s a huge part of our revenue, so now we’re hoping for people to donate on our website.
Is there anything you’d like to add about Latin American Heritage Month or Latincouver?
C: We know everyone is having a difficult time right now because of COVID-19 and physical distancing — many people might feel lonely or that things are so weird. I think it’s important to remind everyone that we are still working to bring people together, create connections and give them something else to think about and be entertained with during this time. We want to remind people that we’re here to everyone.
P: I would also invite your readers to check out the activities we do with the Latin Canadian Business Network, where a lot of people are pivoting or thinking of entrepreneurship or trying to expand their horizons professionally during these times. We are here to support them with that platform as well.
One of the things we’re doing for Latin American Heritage Month, and in general throughout our reflective process, is acknowledge that the whole area we are now sitting on is the unceded lands of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations people. When you reflect about your identity as a Latin American you also understand that these struggles connect throughout the continent. And, of course, in Africa and in other parts of the world, there is the same resonance of colonialism, and we need to re-think and heal our relations.
We’re excited to build a digital bridge between people in Latin America who maybe cannot travel and people from Canada. It’s been beautiful to create this. It’s been one of the positive outcomes of COVID, to create these bridges of cultures, groups, traditions and sounds.
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