Friday night’s Latino Progressive Dinner saw the Perry community end on a high note the year-long series of events celebrating and solemnizing the contributions of Latino-Americans to the history of the U.S.
About 150 people attended the dinner, which progressed from appetizers at the TownCraft Center to a sit-down dinner at the Hotel Pattee to dessert at La Poste. Once diners were replete with a meal reflecting Perry’s Latino immigrants from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Puerto Rico, it was time for salsa dance lessons.
The Perry Public Library spearheaded the year of Latino-American events, with support from a $10,000 grant from Humanities Iowa and additional funding from the American Library Association and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The series was composed of six programs, including a lecture in March on the migrant worker reform movement by Dr. Rich A. Sallas from Des Moines University and a January lecture and film on the experiences of Latino-Americans in the U.S. military, featuring Perry High School history instructor and former U.S. Marine Eddie Diaz.
Perry book lovers will also recall the community-wide reading in October of Sonia Nazario’s “Enrique’s Journey,” including Nazario’s in-person talks given to Perry High School and Perry Middle School students and at the Perry Public Library.
But Friday did not mark the absolute end of the year-long programming. Some ongoing efforts will build on the year’s successes. For instance, Iowa State University artist Jennifer Drinkwater introduced the progressive diners to the series of murals she will paint around Perry embodying the Latino-American experience.
Drinkwater’s murals will themselves be grounded in a series of Latino immigrant oral histories collected by the Perry Public Library under the direction of Jon Wolseth, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach field specialist in Latino community and economic development.
Volunteer artists from the Perry community and the Perry High school will help Drinkwater paint the murals, and the mobile recording lab used to record the oral narratives will also be sponsored by Hispanics United for Perry (HUP) and Hometown Heritage.
But Friday’s progressive dinner was a positive, festive exclamation point for the year’s events and included many authentic touches, from the pastelitos appetizers and cool horchata to the pork with green sauce and hibiscus tea at dinner.
Each venue also featured Latino-themed cultural forms, from kiosks featuring Latino immigrant stories to the pan flutist Cucho Madero’s sweet songs over dinner and from Cinthia Naranjo’s dinner table centerpieces to the free salsa lesson provided by Salsa Des Moines.
Topping everything — or perhaps over-topping everything — was the tres leches cake served for dessert. The old timbers of La Poste must have groaned under 50-some well-fed dancers.
PHS’s Diaz gave some brief remarks after dinner, judging the year of Latino-American programs a big success and thanking the many Perry people who came together to celebrate Perry’s rich and varied Latino-American heritage.
Des Moines University’s Salas also attended the progressive dinner with his family and delivered some closing thoughts on the series of programs.
With remarks relevant to the current political climate in the U.S., Salas quoted the labor leader and civil rights activist Caesar Chavez, who said, “The preservation of one’s own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for others.”
Salas also noted “Eddie Diaz was a great host. We were both part of the Latino Scholars Series along with Sonia Nazario’s ‘Enrique’s Journey.’ Eddie is a great role model and amazing leader. He is a member of Sigma Lambda Beta Inc.”
Salas praised the dinner at the Hotel Pattee and said he “enjoyed great music, art and dancing at La Poste,” finding at the latter a “thinking space” that suited him.
Perry Public Library Director Mary Murphy also wished to thank a long list of sponsors and supporters of the Latino-American project: the city of Perry, including Butch Niebuhr and Sven Peterson; Hispanics United for Perry, including President Rosa Gonzalez, Treasurer Daniel Rivera and many others; Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, including Jon Wolseth and Rosa Gonzalez; the Iowa State University Department of Art, including Jennifer Drinkwater; Dallas County Hospital, including Jenny Hornsby, Matt Wille and Angela Mortoza; Des Moines Area Community College, including Hollie Coon, Rick Carpenter and Rob Denson; Hometown Heritage, including Bill Clark; the Perry Community School District, including Eddie Diaz, Lynn Ubben and Kevin Vidergar; Des Moines University Professor Rich Sallas; Hotel Pattee owners Jay and Denise Hartz; La Poste owners Mary Rose Nichols and Jenny Eklund; author Sonia Navario; Perry-Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bob Wilson; the Des Moines Public Library’s Jan Kaiser, director of the Authors Visiting in Des Moines (AVID) series; and ThePerryNews.com.