Thursday, July 9, 2020
Hispanic Leaders Salute Community’s Hispanic Heroes
Students from Crossing Bridges, a cultural club at Jerome high School, perform.
Sunday, September 22, 2019


Coconut flakes flew through the air. Three mariachi violinists played in time to a trumpet and two guitars. And a slew of awards honoring Hispanic Heroes got handed out at Hailey’s second annual Hailey Hispanic Heritage Festival on Saturday.

The celebration was part of Hispanic Heritage Month, which began on Sept. 15 and ends on Oct. 15. The month-long observance celebrates independence days in Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

“It’s a way for us to share our culture,” said Herbert Romero, who founded the festival sponsored by the Idaho Central Credit Union. “Lyndon B. Johnson started it, proclaiming National Hispanic Heritage Week to recognize the contributions of those who come from Spain, Mexico, Central and South America. Ronald Reagan extended it to a month-long celebration. He’s our hero.”

Valentine Lopez plays the trumpet while his cohorts play the guitarron mexicano, a deep-bodied six-string bass guitar and a smaller Mexican guitar.

Celebrants turned Roberta McKercher Park in Hailey into a colorful amalgamation of bouncy houses, humans rolling around in see-through balls and booths selling makeup, jewelry and foodstuffs like yellow hot pepper sauce and Peruvian-style marinade for chicken.

Marta Gutierrez, who caters weddings and other parties, handed out samples of tres leches milk cake to anyone who would say, “It’s Party Time!” Albert Astorga of Twin Falls took his machete to dozens of coconuts to concoct cocoloco cocktails.

“They put a hot spicy sauce on the fruit spears,” said Samuel Juarez, as he settled down to eat a cup of pineapple and cantaloupe spears.

Jerome High School students wearing colorful red and blue monos de charro bowties and girls clad in billowy yellow skirts performed folk dances.

Jerome High School students perform a traditional Mexican folk dance.

The club, which boasts more than 20 students, was founded by a teacher to explore various cultures.

The Mariachi de mi Tierra, or Mariachi of the Land group came from Nampa.

“Mariachi music is a type of Mexican folk music that’s been going on for centuries,” said Valentine Lopez, who teaches music when he isn’t playing it. “My parents played it and my grandparents played it and now I’m trying to keep it alive.”

Wood River high School graduates Jorgen Lawrence and Monica Carillo, meanwhile, collaborated to perform a song that Carillo had written based on an amalgamation of her favorite songs.

Herbert Romero, the festival’s founder, presents a Hero award to Bob Knoebel, who has mentored several Latino boys over the years.

Crisis Hotline Director Tammy Davis closed her eyes as she listened to the music, pretending she was in Mexico even though she was wearing a winter coat on an afternoon marked by quick swings in temperature depending on whether the sun was out or hiding.

Nelda Kendall, Gay Weakes, Mary Ann Chubb, Susie King and Rebecca Bloom handed out information for, which was started three years ago and staffed by volunteers, some of whom are enrolled in a Spanish conversations class offered at 1 every Wednesday at Light on the Mountains Spiritual Center.

“The Hispanic community is in crisis—people are afraid of ICE showing up on their doorstep,” said Kendall. “Alliance of Idaho recognizes that we and the immigrants in our community are one community. We provide resources, run a 24-hour hotline to help them with immigration questions, questions about childcare and transportation and we tell them about what’s here--The Advocates, St. Luke’s and so on. “

Midway through the 12-hour celebration, Romero handed out a slew of awards honoring Hispanic Heroes.

Samuel Juarez and Merida Costillo, and Cristine, Andrea and Maxiene Juarez enjoy fruit spears covered in hot spices.

He handed out seven to Hispanic Heroes heading up Hispanic groups in the Magic and Treasure valleys. And he handed out double that to Wood River Valley leaders.

“Someone said, ‘Romero, there’s so many.’ And I said, ‘There’s never too many,’ ” he said. “Somebody said, ‘To be a Hispanic hero do you have to be brown?’ Of course not.”

Local heroes honored included Hailey Public Library’s LeAnn Gelskey and Kristin Fletcher; Bob Knoebel, who has mentored several Hispanic youth, including one now at Bowden College in Maine; Gabriela Hurtado, Martha Botello, Michel Sewell, Dreamers tutor Pamela Donoso, Hailey City Council Member Martha Burke and Juan Martinez, who is running for Hailey City Council.

Also, Blaine County Schools’ Communications Director Heather Crocker, State Rep. Muffy Davis, State Sen. Michelle Stennett, Theofila Mendoza, St. Luke’s Ruby Garcia, property service manager Carlos Hurtado, Hailey Coffee Company’s Santos Serva and Bellevue City Alder Member Kathryn Goldman.

Some of them had a momentary scare as they crowded onto one side of the flatbed, sending it teetering like a teeter totter.

“We are all the same,” said Donoso, who immigrated from Chile and attended Boise State University. “My kids are all the same no matter where they come from.  We have to learn our kids diversity. It’s so important to the world right now.”

“One of the reasons I love this valley so much is that we care about each other so much,” added Knoebel.

Margie Gonzalez of the Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs, saluted Hailey for its street banner touting the Hispanic festival.

“I want you to know you’re the first in the state of Idaho to have that,” she said.

A couple of the heroes turned the spotlight back on Romero:

“This is a hero for this community—a shining example of what one person can do,” said Magic Valley radio personality Benjamin Reed.


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