¡Fiesta Latina! Goes Off Without A Hitch

Antonine Amisial and her friend Alexandria Oliver weren’t planning on hitting the Peabody Museum Saturday afternoon. But when they saw a note for free Taíno history lessons, they were intrigued. 

Twenty minutes later, the two weredeep in conversation with Cacike Jorge Baracutei Estevez, wearing bright feathered headdresses and learning why cashews — introduced by the Taíno people to the rest of the world —need to be roasted or boiled before they are consumed. 

 Alexandria Oliver. Lucy Gellman Photo.

Alexandria Oliver. Lucy Gellman Photo.

Friends and colleagues at the West Haven VA Hospital, Amisial and Oliver were two of thousands who packed the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History Saturday morning and afternoon for ¡Fiesta Latina!, an annual celebration of Latino art and culture with music, dance, learning labs, and hands-on coloring activities. The event was held in honor of Hispanic heritage month, which runs each year from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. 

As Amisial and Oliver dove into the intricacies of yucca (did you know that 28 varieties of the plant are extremely poisonous? Neither did they.), entertainment from CT Mariachi, Ballet Folklórico Mexicano de Yale, The African Arawak Connection and others brought attendees to their feet, transforming the museum’s Great Hall of Dinosaurs into an all-ages dance party.

As an alumna of the museum’s science education program, Oliver called the celebration “fun” and unexpected, as it brought out different sections of the city to play under one roof.     

She wasn't the only one to think so. In the shadow of a hulking, polished Brontosaurus skeleton, mom-daughter pair Naila and Iolany Mateo linked arms to swing to a propulsive, string-filled mariachi melody that soaked the space. 

 Naila and Iolany Mateo

Naila and Iolany Mateo

Meanwhile in the nearby Hall of Mammalian Evolution, groups like Access Health CT, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, and the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation delivered their elevator pitches to parents in Spanish and English. At PPSNE’s table, New Haven Artivist Juancarlos Soto handed out sleek pink water bottles and matching pink pins. 

Kids ran through the space, bouncing from entertainment in the main hall to activities in the surrounding rooms and floors above. At one booth, ARTE, Inc. student alumni Belen Hernandez and Ana Gonzales walked attendees through a wooden top coloring activity, working on prototype with several shades of washable marker. 

At one end of the table, sisters Emilia and Olivia Stella (pictured above) compared tops, Olivia taking a moment to spin hers before returning to coloring. While both said that their favorite part of the day, still to come, was dancing amid the dinosaurs, they called coloring a good way to kick off the fiesta. 

“It’s wonderful,” said their mom Melody Poma. “It’s enlightening. The exposure to the different cultures is exactly what they need. It’s very engaging here.”

Her words echoed all the way up the Peabody’ stone staircase to the second and third floors, where booths for the New Haven Free Public Library and Fair Haven Community Health Center joined a "discovery zone" with live ants, iguanas, stick bugs, and a tarantula standing still in his terrarium. As a long line formed outside the discovery zone, SciCorps member Benjamin Rutherford (pictured above) kept attendees occupied with a small animal skull, furry pelt, and schematic of the inner ear. 

Inside the zone, Fiorella Rodriguez giggled with delight as a volunteer dropped a walking stick bug (Phasmatodea) onto her outstretched arm, her mom Barbara Carmona watching eagerly. The two glanced at each other and then back at the bug, light bouncing off the gold W’s on their matching Wonder Woman t-shirts.

Not far away,  Taylor Jordan and Elijah Marrero played with hand puppets, an epic fight between a caterpillar and dinosaur underway between them. 

“It was a good experience for them, and for me,” said mom Belinda Reyes as she watched them. “I’m Puerto Rican, so I learned about my heritage.”