In what has become a Labor Day weekend tradition, HOLA Lakeway Food Festival has grown in size and visitors.
Saturday’s edition of the event was no different.
The event, coinciding with Hispanic Heritage Month, was replete with food vendors, music from several bands and child dancers dressed as senior citizens called Viejitos in an effort to raise awareness of the programs the organization offers, including cultural competence training, English and Spanish classes and family support services.
HOLA Lakeway co-founder and president K.C. Alvarado said the fifth incarnation of the festival was the largest one to date.
“We started out in 2015 with 10 vendors. Now we have 25 vendors,” she said. “We had 300 people attend (in 2015), and we currently have more than 1,000 in attendance today.”
Food from Mexico and Central America was showcased during the festival, as well as local vendors serving American classics. Isabela Saldivia, who works along with her family at Tequeknox, a Venezuelan catering company out of Knoxville, said showcasing their food and culture at the festival was an honor.
“It means a lot. We love representing our country as part of our community. We love showing our culture of Venezuela and South America,” said Saldivia, whose family participated at the festival for the second straight year.
Edward Doswell travels for business weekly and is currently working in western Pennsylvania. He and his family arrived at the festival to enjoy the food and culture.
“We come out to a lot of festivals, and I wanted to enjoy some time with the family. We came here to chow down on some food,” the Russellville resident said.
BY hosting the event, HOLA Lakeway and its sponsors’ collective goal is to raise awareness of the growing Hispanic population in the city of Morristown and Hamblen County, in line with the mission of facilitating the positive integration of immigrant families of the Lakeway area into the fabric of the community. Immigrants from Panama, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, El Salvador and Mexico have found a home in the area over the last two decades.
“This is our third year having a booth (at the festival). Right after we started (our business), I called (K.C. Alvarado and local attorney Willie Santana), and asked how we could get involved – and we’ve been a sponsor ever since. I’m proud of what they do in the community,” said Farmers Insurance agency owner Jay Stokely. “There is a large South and Central American population here, not just Mexican. The University of Tennessee did a large study, and this area has the largest concentration of Hispanics in the state.”
“My mom was a migrant head start teacher, so (my family) has always been immersed in different cultures in the community,” Alvarado said. “(Santana and I) decided to create the organization as a resource for information, education and cultural awareness.”
Stokely added more and more people are attending the food festival, despite inclement weather in past years, to enjoy Latin culture and food.
“The weather was a challenge a couple of years ago. Even with the weather, we had a good turnout,” he said. “The people of Hamblen County want to immerse themselves in the Hispanic culture.
“It’s like muscle memory, the more we hold the event, the more people will start coming. It’s becoming a Labor Day tradition.”
HOLA Lakeway partnered with several nonprofit organizations for the food festival, including Tennessee Fosters and Recruiting Hispanics to Achieve, also known as the RHiTA Project at Walters State Community College. Through a grant from the Tennessee Board of Regents, RHiTA provides leadership development, bilingual outreach, mentoring and institutional collaboration. The program will also raise funds for an endowed scholarship for Hispanic students.
“The program started just last year, and we’ve made a lot of progress,” said Luis Perez, a WSCC student who represents the project. “We’ve helped out a lot of students learn about (the Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Morristown) and Walters State. We’ve helped them with classes, transfer options and how to manage their schedules around their classes.”