Festival aims to unify Latin community

Latin expatriates hope that a cultural festival this month can unify their community as its numbers grow and their countries' UAE ties strengthen.

Ximena Cordova of the Latin Art Fest wants Latinos and non-Latinos alike to come and experience the food, dance and culture of Spain and Latin America on offer at the festival. Silvia Razgova / The National
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DUBAI // Latin expatriates hope that the debut of a cultural festival this month will unify their community as its numbers grow and their respective countries’ UAE ties strengthen.

Ximena Cordova, co-director of the Dubai Latin Art Fest, which is being held next Friday night, said the festival came about from “a general feeling that there was a lack of places where Latinos could gather to eat our food, listen to our language, listen to our music”.

“I realised that there were lots and lots of Latinos around in different areas but there was nothing uniting them,” she said.

The country’s inaugural Latin festival features art, live music, dancing and food from Spain and Latin America.

Last month, the local Spanish-language newspaper El Correo del Golfo reported that at least 17,000 people from Latin countries lived in the UAE, with the number possibly being as high as 50,000.

Like other expat communities, Latinos have moved here for safety and job opportunities in fields including hospitality, oil, military and aviation.

Marta Perez, the newspaper’s editor, said many Spaniards had come to the UAE to escape their country’s ongoing economic crisis, while Latin America’s economic growth had also brought people here.

Colombia, Mexico and Uruguay, she said, had all opened embassies in Abu Dhabi in the past two years, evidence of the increasing numbers of expatriates.

“I think it is important for the UAE, and also for the Latin countries, to improve their economic relationship, because they are going to benefit,” Ms Perez said.

Since the Peruvian consulate in Dubai opened in 2011, not only had the number of expatriates increased but so had the political and economic relations, said Carlos Tavera, the country’s consul-general.

“Because of the distance, the common idea is that [western] expatriates are mostly European, but there are thousands of Latin Americans and they’re in very good positions.”

Mr Tavera said more Emiratis have also become interested in Latin America, with the number of visas issued for Peru increasing by about 50 per cent last year from 2013.

Mariano Ortiz, another festival organiser who runs the Facebook page Latinos in the UAE, said that he found many in the community had come here to meet a particular goal but ended up wanting to stay for the long term.

He hoped the festival would help Latin Americans reconnect with their culture and also provide exposure to non-Latinos.

“It is the first occasion such a congregation of creative and cultural expression has been opened up to the global hub that is Dubai to enjoy and judge in their own way,” said Mr Ortiz.

Ms Cordova said Latinos were expanding their horizons with the fast development of the UAE. She noted that the country offered cultural similarities with the Arab world’s shared connection to Spain.

“I also think we share some of the values,” she said. “It is easy for us to settle – not just to come and have a look and try it, but to actually settle.”

The Latin Art Fest is free and runs from 7pm to 11pm in the alley between Eighth Street and Artissima Gallery in Al Quoz. It is part of the Dubai Shopping Festival.

The All Quoz Project, a public art group, organised the festival, which is supported by several Latin companies and organisations as well as embassies.