Salsa dancing, bongos and congas, tuxedoes and evening gowns marked Buffalo's Third Annual Hispanic Heritage dinner Saturday at the Statler Towers ballroom.
The dinner has become the unofficial kickoff of Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15.
Although Heritage Month is relatively new in Buffalo, it has been observed in other parts of the country, including Albany, for years, said Adrian Rodriguez, one of the organizers.
The monthlong time frame is important because it marks the anniversaries of independence for Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, it also includes Dia de la Raza, or Day of the Race, an Oct. 12 celebration of Hispanic heritage and culture.
"One day I was thinking to myself, 'Why don't we celebrate it here?' [Heritage month] is a wonderful way to promote our culture," Rodriguez said.
"We feel it's important to acknowledge where we are and who we are," said Lou Santiago, president of Hispanics United, one of the sponsors of the dinner, along with the Latino Business Owners Association and the Hispanic Womens League. During the event, awards were presented to local Hispanics for their achievements in the community.
Alicia Granto received the education award. Granto was a counselor and academic adviser at the University at Buffalo and teaches at the Elmwood Franklin Achieve Enrichment Program.
Francisco M. Vasquez, Ph.D., was honored with the professional achievement award. His focus has been in the field of developmental disabilities and children and their families.
The Hispanic Arts Award went to Francisco Guzman, project manager with the City of Buffalo Office of Strategic Planning Division of New Housing.
The Hispanic Business Award went to Benny Rodriguez, the owner of El Sugarbowl Takeout and Dining on Niagara Street.
Upcoming events for Hispanic Heritage Month include a job fair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 29 at Holy Cross Church on Niagara Street.