Gallery event shows many faces of Hispanic culture

ROCHESTER — The event featured mariachi music; Borinquen Dance Theatre and Arco Iris Mexicano, merengue and bachata dances; Brazilian capoeira and martial arts demonstrations; plus Garth Fagan.

The annual Hispanic/Latino Heritage Family Day at the Memorial Art Gallery Oct. 3 lived up to its billing as celebrating the "Faces of Diversity." It was one of several local events — also including festivities at Holy Apostles Church, City Hall and Rochester city schools — presented to commemorate Hispanic Heritage month, celebrated nationally Sept. 15-Oct. 15.

Attendance at the art gallery broke a record this year with more than 2,100 people coming out to participate in this year’s event, said Debora McDell-Hernández, coordinator of community programs and outreach.

The merengue and bachata dancers from Eugenio Mario de Hostos Charter School performed for the first time outside their school, according to their teacher, Yamalyn Antonetti. She emphasized that she not only teaches the children how to perform various traditional dances, but instructs them in the history and cultural significance of the dances.

"They felt privileged," she said of the children chosen to perform. "They’re already asking if they can do it again."

Naysa Rodríguez, 12, was a little nervous before taking the stage to show off her kicks and punches with her team from Greater Rochester Martial Arts Kata, which is operated by Wilfredo "Papo" Villarrubia. She said she hopes she shows other Latina girls that they can be strong, too.

"I like to go to the extreme," she said. "I’m just that kind of kid."

Nydia Padilla-Rodríguez, a longtime community role model, was honored during the gallery’s tribute to Borinquen Dance Theatre, which is celebrating its 29th year.

Garth Fagan, who has been a mentor to Padilla-Rodriguez since she joined his "Bottom of the Bucket But" dance company when she was 16, spoke of how he knew early on that she was destined to succeed. He also donated $5,000 to Borinquen.

"All these complex ideas I was using, she understood as a teenager," he said. "She understood rhythm. It was in her spirit, in her soul, in her DNA, in her culture."

Padilla-Rodriguez said Fagan taught her about being tough with her students to teach them discipline and self-confidence and respect. But she said she’s also teaching them love for their art, for their families and for themselves.

"Everything I’m doing starts in the home," she said. "And to every adult in this room, (remember that) we’re responsible for our young people."

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