Salsa on the Square highlights vibrancy of Gettysburg's Latino culture

The 15th annual Salsa on the Square offered all things Latino, from food to music to costumes and cultural traditions.

Salsa on the Square highlights vibrancy of Gettysburg's Latino culture
Antoni Esquivias (left), program coordinator for Project Gettysburg León, and Marina Fleites, a member of Project Gettysburg León's executive committee, pause for a moment during a busy night at Salsa on the Square.

Carlisle St. turned into a party Friday night as the town gathered to celebrate Gettysburg’s Latino culture at the 15th annual Salsa on the Square. Hosted by Project Gettysburg León (PGL), the annual gathering offered all things Latino, from food to music to costumes and cultural traditions.

David Angeles, owner of Taco Trap House, summed up the importance of the event while cooking tacos on a large grill behind his food truck, which saw a long line of hungry patrons all night.

“People can try our culture. It’s more than just Mexican music. There’s more to explore,” he said. “It’s about bringing everybody together to have a good time.”

At the opening of the festival Mayor Rita Frealing announced the declaration of September 30 as an official day to recognize Latino culture in Gettysburg. “Salsa on the Square celebrates the contribution of Latinx community to the economy and culture of Adams County,” she said.

Marlon Moreno (5th from left) shows a group of children how to create a traditional Nicaraguan sawdust carpet.

The creation in real time of a sawdust carpet known as al fombras de aserrin proved to be a popular and interesting artistic display at the festival. Marlon Moreno, a native Nicaraguan invited to the event by PGL, stood around the carpet until dusk, spreading large mounds of colored sawdust into the shape of PGL’s logo. As he did so he helped a group of curious children learn how to color and spread the sawdust.

“We grew up with this culture. We grew up doing this technique,” Moreno explained.

He’s been involved with PGL for a while and enjoys sharing his heritage with residents of another town, especially those with Central American roots. “We talk about our kids. We talk about everyday life. They miss their country,” he said.

Passing the traditions of Latino culture from one generation to the next was evident in the amount of young children and teenagers participating in the festival. Vida Charter School hosted a booth with games for children. The Latino Clubs of both Gettysburg and Biglerville high schools hosted a food tent with homemade drinks and desserts.

Diana Martinez, a senior at Gettysburg Area High School and president of the school’s Latinx Club, said the club’s goal was to raise enough money to fund a year-end trip. She added that the festival is important to the community because “it teaches that we’re more than one thing. We’re a big community and every (Latin country) has a different culture.”

Francisco Diaz plays the role of La Gigantona to the delight of the crowd.

Perhaps the highlight of the night was the dance of La Gigantona and Pepe Cabezon. The two are traditional Nicaraguan folklore characters that participate in a dance meant to symbolize the Spanish colonization of Central America.

Artists at Taller Xuchialt in León crafted the roughly 12-foot-tall La Gigantona from a mannequin and added wooden braces below to stabilize its weight and provide room underneath for a dancer. They dressed her with fluttering sleeves and a skirt and added a hat adorned with blue tinsel. Pepe, a much smaller figure, was created with a large drum-like sphere for the head, covered in black fabric and a painted face.

Francisco Diaz, a site director for PGL in León, played the part of La Gigantona while Allan Muñoz, an artist from León, danced as Pepe. The two twirled around the circle of festival attendees, eliciting applause, cheers, and even a few squeals from children. They danced to an original poem written by Moreno played with a snare drum accompaniment.

Diaz and Muñoz both participated in Salsa on the Square as a delegation from León in other ways. Diaz sang a song on the guitar called “Nicaragua, Nicaraguita” from the front stage at the beginning of the night, and Muñoz helped with the sawdust carpet and displayed some original drawings at the table hosted by PGL.

(left to right) Rosa, Michelle, Yari and Lizbeth sit on the sidewalk to eat their street tacos.

This was the first Salsa on the Square in three years, with the Covid-19 pandemic interrupting the festival. Antoni Esquivias, the program coordinator with PGL and a sophomore at Gettysburg College, said “I think personally it seems like we never left.”

“It was really great to see different members of the community show up. I was really happy with all the turnout,” he added.

Despite a steady rain, people danced on the street to the sounds of a Latin music DJ well into the night. The pride of Gettysburg’s Latino community was on full display, and to all those who attended it was cause for a good time.

Correction: The article originally stated that students from Gettysburg College created the puppets of La Gigantona and Pepe. The puppets were created by artists from León, Nicaragua.