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A dancer with Ballet Folklorico Yaretzi dances to the sounds of Mariachi Real de Mexico at the sixth annual Latin American Festival on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, at Long's Park in Lancaster. Ballet Folklorico Yaretzi will perform at the eighth annual festival Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, at New Holland Community Memorial Park in New Holland.

Lancaster County’s population is more diverse than it was 10 years ago, and the 36.1% increase in its Hispanic/Latino population is a big reason why.

As the county joins the nation in observing National Hispanic Heritage Month, the latest census data shows 61,381 of its 552,984 residents are people of Hispanic or Latino origin.

Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the culture, contributions and history of people whose ancestors came from Spain, the Caribbean, Central and South American, and Mexico.

With the theme of “Esperanza: A celebration of Hispanic Heritage and Hope,” the Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 observance is significant because it coincides with the independence days of Belize, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua.

Locally, a focus will be Saturday’s Festival Latinoamericano — Latin American Festival — in New Holland.

“The Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity to reflect on our efforts to achieve diversity and inclusion in our nation,” said Carlos Graupera, CEO of the Spanish American Civic Association.

Lancaster County and city officials announced proclamations earlier this month recognizing the contributions of people of Hispanic and Latino origin nationally and locally.

During a Lancaster City Council meeting Tuesday, city Mayor Danene Sorace said the Lancaster community is fortunate to have a strong Hispanic culture and heritage.

“I believe that you’ve been a part of Lancaster’s identity for such a long time,” she told a group of Hispanic residents. “It set a course for our community to be a successful and welcoming city to immigrants and to refugees.”

Of the county’s 61,381 Latino residents, 23,341, or 38%, live in the city.

Graupera said Lancaster city, like nearby cities such as Allentown, Reading and York, is being reinvigorated by the influx of Latinos into its community.

“Lancaster has been revitalized by an influx of Hispanic residents that began to arrive in the 1970s,” he said. “Latinos are a driving force for new home ownership in the city. There has been an explosion of Latino businesses in the city as well.”

Lancaster-based immigration attorney Oscar Barbosa agrees.

“Latinos, including undocumented immigrants, contribute billions in taxes every year. I believe the Social Security, for example, remains afloat in part because undocumented people are paying into that system, yet they are not able to access those funds when they retire.”

The Hispanic/Latino culture has had a huge influence and continues to leave a mark on different aspects of American life, including music, cuisine, media and entertainment.

Although they share a common language, with the exception of Brazil, Hispanics and Latin Americans come from diverse geographic, social and economic backgrounds, and can be very different depending on their country of origin and family heritage.

“Latinos have left a footprint in all types of industries. We have Latinos in the executive branches of government. Latinos have a presence everywhere,” Barbosa said.

One of the biggest misconceptions, he said, is that Latinos “take away” from Americans.

“That is not the case. We are here to contribute and grow. We acknowledge our background and our cultural heritage, but we also have to celebrate our contributions to the American way of life. We are as American as everybody else,” Barbosa said.

Hispanic Heritage Month began in 1968 when President Lyndon Johnson issued a proclamation designating a National Hispanic Heritage Week. Two decades later, under the leadership of President George H.W. Bush, it was expanded to a month-long celebration, from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.

The county’s Latino heritage will be on full display Saturday in New Holland, where the eighth annual Festival Latinoamericano – Latin American Festival – will be held at New Holland Memorial Community Park.

Presented by the Latin American Alliance, the free event celebrates the region’s Latino culture with entertainment, arts and crafts, children’s activities and food.

The celebration begins at 11:30 a.m. and runs through 8 p.m. at the borough park at 400 E. Jackson St.

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