Cuban and Caribbean Studies Institute

Tulane University

Audubon Zoo Comes Alive for Celebración Latina

October 25th, 2010

By: Shearon Roberts

Photo: One of the members of Casa Samba performs during a show at this year’s Celebración Latina (Photo courtesy of Dennis Woltering)

On Saturday, October 16, Tulane’s Stone Center and the Audubon Nature Institute transformed the Audubon Zoo on Magazine Street, New Orleans into a buzz of Latin American activity. The sixth year of Celebración Latina, a public event hosted to recognize the city’s Latin American peoples and culture, for the first time was held at the Zoo. Pupusas, Spanish wildlife shows, and bands like Grupo Sensation, attracted an additional 2,000 visitors who came to enjoy music, food and special Latin American Zoo programming, that wrapped up Hispanic Heritage Month activities across the city.

“Everything had a Latin American flair,” said Eileen Lumar-Johnson, the director of community relations for Audubon Community Outreach. “There was all Latin American music, a live band at the Capital One stage, translators for visitors, special programming in the wildlife theaters…we tried to make it as authentic and down-home as possible.”

All told, some 8,300 visitors stopped by the Zoo during the event. Lumar-Johnson said thanks to the Stone Center’s contribution, and additional sponsors BP America Inc, and Pan-American Life Insurance Group, the Zoo offered free access to the events with Zoo admission, and distributed tickets in advance, through Latin American community partners in the city. Several groups promoted the event to the Latin American community, Lumar-Johnson said, and helped give out some 10,000 donated tickets from the sponsors. Those community partners ranged from KGLA radio station, local Latin American restaurants, Catholic Charities, Consulate Generals for Mexico, Brazil and Honduras, and Puentes New Orleans, to name a few.

“We did a grassroots effort to ensure that families who couldn’t afford it could be there,” Lumar-Johnson said.

Celebración Latina grew out of the 2004 inauguration of the Stone Center’s Pebble Center, which exposes children to Latin American culture, through children’s books, said Denise Woltering-Vargas, the Stone Center’s program manager for Educational and Community Programs. Children’s art and craft, face-painting and Spanish wildlife shows, mixed with informational booths from local consulates, as visitors sampled food from La Macarena Pupuseria, Felipe’s Taqueria and the Brazilian Market & Café. Latin music filtered the activities from performances by Fredy Omar con su Banda, Casa Samba’s Pagode musical group, OVI-G and the Froggies, in addition to Grupo Sensation.

The growth of the event from Lawrence Square on Magazine Street, to the Zoo, Woltering-Vargas said, is a testament of the interest in the presence and influence of the Latin American community in the city.

Lumar-Johnson agreed. “There were a number of our employees who came with their families, and were extremely excited that this event was finally something that the Zoo offered for the Latin American segment of the community.”