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Norcross festival another outreach to Hispanic community

Miriam Correa makes foods from her native Puerto Rico during Saturday’s Gateway International Food and Music Festival in Norcross. The event also featured live music, handmade crafts and demonstrations highlighting the Hispanic community. (Staff Photo: Tyler Estep)

Miriam Correa makes foods from her native Puerto Rico during Saturday’s Gateway International Food and Music Festival in Norcross. The event also featured live music, handmade crafts and demonstrations highlighting the Hispanic community. (Staff Photo: Tyler Estep)

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Dorothy Forster, left, speaks with a potential customer as Luciana Ramirez works on a belt using materials from her native Guatemala and recycled Coke cans. The table was part of Saturday’s Gateway International Food and Music Festival at Norcross’ Lillian Webb Park. (Staff Photo: Tyler Estep)

NORCROSS — The Gateway International Food and Music Festival, held Saturday at Norcross’ Lillian Webb Park, was fun. Live music, handmade crafts and dance performances — not to mention flawless weather — made sure of that.

The Gateway International Food and Music Festival was also delicious. Goodies like bacalaitos (codfish fritters), rellenos de papa (stuffed potatoes) and good old-fashioned cupcakes saw to that.

Most importantly, the Gateway International Food and Music Festival was, simply put, important.

“It is very important because sometimes we miss the opportunity to engage with other people out of our comfort zone,” Pedro Marin, a state representative from Duluth, said Saturday. “We need to embrace diversity, and sometimes we lose that, especially the way we’re living now. You open your garage door, you go in your house, and that’s it. You make your world there.”

Saturday’s events were truly international, but focused on the Latino experience. Gwinnett is now a majority-minority county, and it’s no secret that the Hispanic community is booming. The latter is truest in Norcross — where Latinos make up about 40 percent of the population.

Dorothy Forster was born in Guatemala to a missionary parents and spent her childhood there. On Saturday, she and Hispanic members of Nacoochee Presbyterian Church joined in the festivities, selling (and making on-site) handmade goods crafted from materials brought stateside from Guatemala. She praised Norcross for putting on such an event.

“The United States needs to understand that we live in a global village,” Forster said. “We need to understand people, we need to understand each other, we need to support each other.”

The city of Norcross has taken a hands-on approach to embracing the Hispanic community in recent years. It’s launched a community policing program geared toward building a better relationship with Latinos, and recently held a citizens police academy — where everyday residents learn about how the department works — entirely in Spanish. Mayor Bucky Johnson has made no bones about the importance of such projects.

“As a majority-minority county, we have to showcase our strengths,” Marin said. “And I think this is one of our strengths, the diversity that calls Gwinnett home … I think it’s very important, because sometimes we miss the opportunity to engage with other people out of our comfort zone.”