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Liliana Ortiz-Bermudez holding up a white dress in the style of a Latin-American dancing dress.
Photo credit: Stephanie Zollshan/The Berkshire Eagle

Founder of Berkshire Latino Festival seeks to create a Latino art center

As founder of the Latino festival, Liliana Ortiz-Bermudez has sought to leave a legacy that will enrich the Latino community with Latin-American Art.

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Liliana Ortiz-Bermudez, founder of the Latino Festival of the Berkshires in Berkshire County, MA, and host of the festival for nearly 30 years, wants to build a Latino community center.

Born in Cali, Colombia, Ortiz-Bermudez came to the U.S. to earn her master's degree in 1988. She moved to Berkshire in 1990 when a family member persuaded her to.

She was there when Berkshire held its first Latino community event in 1991: a mass held in Spanish in Saint Mary’s church in Lee, with Latinos coming from surrounding towns to attend.

Though the group was small — perhaps less than 70 total — Ortiz-Bermudez became inspired to take on the role of event organizer herself, launching the first Latino festival in 1995.

“We went to American festivals, the summer fest, the Apple Squeeze. Then I started to think about how to make a festival that would make an impact on the Americans,” Ortiz-Bermudez said to the Berkshire Eagle.

She kept diligent track of attendees addresses and delivered brightly colored envelopes to advertise the festival, giving her a reputation as “The woman from the Latino Festival.”

In turn, she received questions about her life as a Latino immigrant and became someone new immigrants could go to because of the festival.

For her work, she has been previously awarded the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus Latino Excellence Award from the 4th Berkshire District.

“The Latino Festival is a window that shows others things they will appreciate in our cultures,” said Ortiz-Bermudez.

Despite her efforts, Ortiz-Bermudez was unable to make a career out of community involvement, suspecting that her Spanish accent made her subject to biased decisions.

But Ortiz-Bermudez isn’t one to be stopped by that.

The Latino population of Berkshire has been growing since that first festival, reaching 5,000 members of a community that Ortiz-Bermudez seeks to provide culture and art to.

After 27 years of festivals, she looks towards the future of the Latino community and another goal she has not completed: a Latin-American center for the arts.

Ortiz-Bermudez knows that fully-volunteer projects aren’t easy to maintain and that the festival she started may end with her.

Her hopes are to create the arts center so the importance of Latin-American art and what it can provide will be recognized, seeking donations so that she may make it a reality.

“I would like to leave a legacy. If I die, those who are there helping me die too, and [if] others get tired, the Latino Festival will die. It will only be a memory,” Ortiz-Bermudez said.

“This is the land of art. Everyone comes here for art. We should have a center for Latin American arts so we can keep our culture alive. We will leave evidence of the best that we brought in our hearts,” she continued.

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