Dominoes and dancing: Hundreds enjoy 16th annual Conga Caliente Festival in Tampa

Local News

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Hundreds filled Al Lopez Park on Sunday to celebrate Hispanic culture at the Conga Caliente Festival.

The festival was packed with attendees, all excited to be a part of Hispanic Heritage month which wrapped up several days ago.

While the calendar may not say October, the celebration of the Hispanic culture was certainly reflected in the hearts of festival attendees. It was written all over their faces. You could hear the joy in their laughter and see the happiness in their broad smiles.

Their passion and pride was alive and well.

The Conga Caliente festival was described to 8 on your Side as “an event for multiple generations.” This festival is about sharing with everyone the past, the present and the future of all Hispanic cultures.

After all, organizers have maintained the same concept over the 16 years the festival has been celebrated. Their theme, they say, is simple.

It’s never too late to preserve the past – by honoring the present.

In fact, that’s the goal year after year, for the last 16 years, to cherish the rich history of this treasured culture.

Those who attended told News Channel 8, every year it gets better and better, in addition to getting bigger and bigger, and this year, as in years past, there was, once again, a little something for everyone.

Just ask Maritza Astorquiza.

Astorquiza, the producer of Conga Caliente, described the event as “a celebration of Hispanic culture from all parts of the world, but the Hispanic culture in the United States.”

As with previous festivals, Conga Caliente 2019 was less about individualism, and more about sharing all of the aspects of Hispanic culture with others. It was, indeed, a family event for all who attended, whether you were related by blood or by friendship.

As the saying goes, when you’re here, you’re family.

“There’s the dancing, the food, that’s how we’re known as. Our food, our dance, our culture, our people. Beautiful people,” said event attendee Mildred Negro.

Haydee Santos agrees.

“This way we keep our heritage alive, no matter where we go, and it’s nice to see it in Tampa,” Santos said.

If you ask organizers, what are the biggest aspects of the Hispanic culture celebrated year after year at this festival, they’d tell you, the answer is easy.

Music, food and family.

Add to that dynamic trio – one more reason to celebrate the culture, organizers say. In fact, this year, this favorite was enjoyed by many.

You can’t say no to dominoes.

This spirited past time, often enjoyed, brought out healthy competition for those who played on Sunday in Al Lopez Park. No doubt, there was some serious fun to be had as friends and families battled it out in a Cuban dominoes tournament.

“You can see that they are pretty mellow in this setting because they know it’s a tournament,” said Carlos Morales. “If you were playing in your house with friends you know it’s no issue.”

Then, Morales added with a wide smile, laughing, “You slam it, and then, you know. You talk smack.”

As he described his genuine love for the game, the smile on this dominoes fan grew even wider, as did his laughter. This, he says, is what the day is all about – connecting with people, sharing memories and enjoying the culture.

Smack talk aside, another competitive aspect of the festival came out when the dancing shoes came on – muy bien, you might say.

Nearly everyone at the day-long party took part in some dancing during the day, moving to the music.

“No matter where we go, this is our heritage. It really is so nice to see here,” said Haydee Santos. “We love it.”

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