IRTF and Cinco de Mayo

Our event for Sunday, May 4th, was the Cinco De Mayo Dance party held at Balinda’s Nite Club on Detroit Avenue in Cleveland which was put on by a joint effort of the Nueva Luz Urban Resource Center, the LGBT Center of Greater Cleveland, and the InterReligious Task Force on Central America (IRTF) in order to raise money to bring about 40 athletes and cultural delegates from El Salvador and Columbia to Cleveland to participate in the Gay Games this August.
We spoke to Rachel Napolitano of the IRTF who told us that 2014 will be the first time that El Salvador and Columbia will be represented in the Gay Games in over 30 years. A 12 person co-ed softball team is coming from El Salvador and Columbia is sending a woman’s soccer team, a men’s volleyball team, and 1 swimmer.

In addition to Rachel, it was good seeing other old friends from the IRTF like Brian Stefan-Szittal and Chissy Stonebraker. We got to meet Mary Williams who had worked with the IRTF to put on a very successful spaghetti dinner fundraiser last week at Trinity Commons which raised enough money to pay for 3 athletes to come to Cleveland. We also enjoyed visiting with Rev. Allen Harris from the Franklin Circle Christian Church and his partner, Rev. Craig W. Hoffman from the United Church of Christ who both worked diligently checking people in at the door.

Moreover, we really applaud the hard work of Columbia-born Julio Aponte who has has traveled back and forth between Cleveland and Central America recruiting the athletes and making travel arrangements for them to come here. As if this was not enough, Julio even made the quesadillas that we all had for dinner and entertained us by performing several Latin American dances with eager partners. Julio is also leading he search for places these athletes can stay while they are in Cleveland but rest assured, at least a few of them will be staying with Julio-he’s that kind of big-hearted guy!

The Cinco de Mayo Celebration at Cleveland City Hall on May 5th, which we co-sponsored, was a very festive affair. First of all, for entertainment there was the Mexican Folkloric Dance Group from Painesville and the Mariachi Nacional Band who warmed things up and got us ready.

Then there were the speakers, who were all very good because they all called for cultural unity while recognizing the valor and courage shown by the outnumbered Mexican militia who defeated the French Army in the Battle of Puebla on May 5th, 1862 which is the basis for Cinco De Mayo. In fact, Councilman Brian Cummins said that if the Mexicans hadn’t won that battle there is no telling what the ramifications would have been for both Mexico and the United States.

Mayor Frank Jackson said that today was for acknowledging the contributions that the Hispanic community has made to Cleveland and Councilman Cummins said that he was proud to represent the largest area of Hispanics in Ohio; 40% of his district is Hispanic and the Councilman made a strong plea for comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S. and praised the efforts of such groups as HOLA and Cleveland Jobs for Justice who have worked so hard for it.

The keynote speaker of the day was Dr. Akram Boutros of the MetroHealth system who said that he was proud to be here today to honor a “people who have made great strides to help a great nation stand on its feet.” He went on to praise the inclusive nature of Cleveland and said that Metrohealth does not want to dictate policy but instead asks the community what its needs are and how can Metrohealth help them.

A special award of recognition were given to Magistrate Pablo A. Castro, III who rose from humble beginnings to become one of the most respected people in Cleveland. A man of multiple talents, not only is Mr. Castro now President of the Ohio Hispanic Bar Association, he is also a a martial arts instructor who puts in a lot of quality time teaching self-defense classes for children and adults. He firmly believes that if people are successful in their chosen path they are obligated to “send the elevator back down” and help others achieve their goals.

Another award of recognition was given to Luchita Galindo who founded Luchita’s restaurants. Since Luchita Galindo could not be with us on this day, the award was accepted by her daughter, Mari Galindo-DaSilva of Metrohealth who praised her mother, who is now 95, and spoke of what a positive influence she has been for many people including Mari herself.

And, of course, we talked to a lot of friends on this occasion including Catherine Pina Ameta, an interpreter coordinator for the Cleveland Municipal Court, who thanked Margaret W. Wong and Associates for helping her brother Jairo Pina and his friend Jason Jung with their immigration issues.

Perhaps the best overview of the day was given by Lucy Torres, Hispanic Liaison at the City of Cleveland, who said that she was very heartened by the diversity of the turnout for this event. Ms. Torres said that we are like pieces of cloth that have come together to form a quilt and thus we are are all part of a bigger story that should be shared.