KUALA LUMPUR — After a two-year hiatus, the annual Latin American Festival returned to the heart of Kuala Lumpur this year in a big way.
Uniting people in a celebration of the vibrant Latin and Caribbean cultures through non-stop dance, salsa music, folkloric artwork and crafts, there was, of course, also delicious Latin American and Caribbean food, such as empanadas and tacos.
The event was held at Commons KL (formerly BB Park) and featured booths representing Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, and Peru.
This year's festival, the thirteenth time it has been held, was organised by The Group of Latin America and Caribbean Countries (GRULAC) in collaboration with Plaza Low Yat, Federal Hotels International, the Latin Women's Association of Malaysia (LWAM), and Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (DBKL).
The LWAM have been a part of the organising committee since the beginning, aiming to help the Latin community integrate in Malaysia and create community service initiatives that deal with pressing concerns of the day.
This year, their booth held lucky draws with enticing prizes, including round-trip tickets to one of the Latin American countries represented in the festival.
The proceedings of the lucky draw collected by LWAM go to different charities each festival, and this year, all festival revenues were donated to the Yayasan Orang Buta Malaysia (YOBM), an organisation that supports the blind and visually handicapped as well as their families.
"We want to introduce Malaysians to the vibrant Latin American cultures and to strengthen ties between Malaysia and the Latin American nation, and giving back to the community has always been at the core of what we do, so this year we are happy to do so again." shared a LWAM representative.
The colourful culture of Latin America is distinctively it's own.
The culture, which has been affected by the various indigenous peoples of the area as well as by European and African customs, shows how rich and full of life Latin traditions are.
I can honestly say the people of Latin America are among the friendliest and most welcoming in the world.
Children were seen dancing, adults chatting and cheering, and it was great to see the streets of Bukit Bintang vibrating to the sounds of music and happy faces the way it was before the COVID pandemic.
Experiencing the Latin world in Malaysia
Upon entering the venue for this year's festival, one is greeted with an assembly of booths which serve an array of delicious food.
I swapped my morning nasi lemak to get a taste of Mexican tacos, Argentinian Empanadas and Colombian Arepas.
Different local drinks were also served, from Peruvian Pisco Sour to Mexican wine.
A life-size cut-out of footballer Lionel Messi also made an appearance next at the Argentinian booth, whose staff proudly wore their national football attire.
To make room for more food, I headed to the main stage, where you could see people dancing to Latin music and watching cultural shows and dances.
One thing I absolutely love about the Latin American Festival is how almost everyone will get up and dance to the sound of the drums and music playing; even if you are a dance noob like myself, you will end up moving, chatting with people in the crowd and smiling to familiar faces you’ve seen at the same festival a few years back.
Mexico's Ambassador in Malaysia, Edmundo Font, was also present at the event, and was seen taking pictures and cheering for the performers.
“We loved sampling all the different food, we have tried Latin American food at restaurants but this time we get a taste of authentic street food and it was delicious,” a Malaysian couple commented when asked about the festival.
Another Brazilian mother, who was there with her 9-year-old son, said she had been living in Malaysia with her family for over 7 years.
“I’m happy I get to share my culture with the Malaysian people, and to have my son experience a taste of home,” she said.
Missed the festival? Don't worry, Latin American culture is all around in Malaysia
Personally, when I heard the festival was back this year, I was very excited.
It was something my best friend and I used to do before he had to relocate due to the pandemic. And while this time around I was missing my dance partner and foodie in crime, I still enjoyed every minute of the festival.
I always tell my international students that they need to experience Malaysian culture to the fullest and go home with more than just a certificate, but also stories and lasting memories.
And as a resident, being able to experience other cultures at home has done the same for me. It has widened my perspective of the world, given me lifelong friends, and made me, I hope, a much better person.
While this year's festival came to an end, you can keep an eye out for the next one, which will take place in March 2023 on the Latin American Festival Facebook Page.
You can also keep up with activities and charitable events organised by the Latin Women's Association of Malaysia.
Among the many things, Malaysians and Latin Americans have in common is their love for food and passion for life; if you missed out on the festival and want to experience a bit of Latin American culture and can't wait for next year, you could get your tapas and taco fix at one of the many excellent restaurants in KL, or opt for bachata classes and dance your worries away.
Or, like me, try the gentle art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, where you lovingly attempt to submit someone via joint locks or chokeholds, gently, of course.
Whichever you decide to do, you will find yourself immersed in a community of people who remind you that life is to be celebrated and enjoyed.
Huda Hekmat is an educator, content writer, and Jiu-Jitsu practitioner. She is currently doing her masters in Educational Psychology. When she isn't teaching, writing, or trying to armbar her fellow gym mates, you can find her reading a thriller, watching a stand-up comedy, or on the hunt to find the best nasi lemak in KL.