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Festival del Rio Anacostia offers Latino community opportunity to learn about environmental issues

LatinoFestivalBLADENSBURG – About 300 people attended the Second Annual Festival del Rio Anacostia, or Anacostia River Festival, at the Bladensburg Waterfront Park on Oct. 14.

The free bilingual event offered local Latino families the opportunity to learn more about local environmental issues and eco-friendly habits while enjoying a day in the park with boat tours, fishing and live performances.

“The purpose of the Festival del Rio is to build bridges with the communities, specifically the Latino communities, the Spanish-speaking communities in the Anacostia watershed, because there’s a big population of Latinos in (the area),” said Jorge Bogantes, a natural resources specialist with the Anacostia Watershed Society. “There’s kind of a gap in how the Latinos have access to all these different programs…the idea of this is to engage the community and really make them part of the movement to clean and restore the Anacostia River with the larger sustainability and environmental issues that we face.”

Thirty-one organizations had tables with information and activities about local environmental work and local wildlife. These organization included Latino Outdoors, Watkins Nature Center and the Prince George’s County Department of the Environment.

Luisa Robles, the sustainability coordinator with the City of Greenbelt Public Works, helped run a table about best recycling practices. She said that this is the first time some of the first-generation immigrants learn about what can and cannot be recycled.

“Many times we have recycling guidelines and everything is in English and just in writing,” Robles said. “A large portion of the Latino population lives in apartment buildings, and sometimes the apartment buildings don’t have information as to what’s recyclable and what’s not.”

Bogantes said first-generation immigrants from Central America may come from countries that do not have a culture of recycling or waste management.

“An eye-opener for them is the trash,” Bogantes said. “When they go out to the river, they really see the trash, they say, ‘wow.’ This is a moment of reflection for a lot of them.”

Grant support from the Prince George’s County Department of the Environment and the Chesapeake Bay Trust funded the festival. The steering committee for the event consists of nine organizations, including Chispa, the Anacostia Watershed Society and Friends of Sligo Creek.

Ramon Palencia-Calvo said an important aspect of the event was the opportunity attendees had to experience the river through fishing and boat tours. Palencia-Calvo is the director of Chispa Maryland with the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.

“We really want to make sure they have a full experience,” Palencia-Calvo said. “For us, in order to take care of nature, you really need an opportunity to experience nature, and through boat rides and fishing, they get an opportunity to experience everything that the river can offer to them.”

As 11-year-old Darwin Ruiz stood at the pier fishing, he said that he and his family came to the festival “because we sometimes like going out to have fun.” He said he learned today “that people help the earth by recycling, and I learned something about water, that this river is getting a little dirty because people are throwing trash.”

Juan Quezada from Damascus came to the festival with his two children and his wife.

“It’s my first time here,” he said in Spanish. “(The organizations here) teach about how to take care of the river, how to take care of the trees. Many things are taught here, including the different species of fish (in the river).”

Trey Sherard, the outreach coordinator for Anacostia Riverkeeper, helped initiate the contacts and connections that resulted in the first festival last year. Around the beginning of 2016, he and Tom Taylor, who works with a subwatershed group in Greenbelt, contacted Latino environmental organizations to try to establish a subcommittee.

“We reached out to those people, brought them together in what we thought would be a Hispanic Outreach Subcommittee for the (Anacostia Watershed Citizens Advisory Committee), and within a few months of that they had decided on a festival,” Sherard said. “We were just expecting to get a subcommittee together that could talk about some things. They didn’t just talk about some things – they pushed this festival together.”

The steering committee will begin planning for next year’s Festival del Rio Anacostia in the coming weeks.

“In the future, it could be Festival del Rio Potomac, or Rio Grande,” Bogantes said. “The possibilities are endless. I think this could be a movement.”

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