Comida Fest 2017: A Project That Aspires To Embody The Spirit Of London’s Latin American Community:

Have you any idea how many Latin Americans are currently resident in the UK? As the “Latino Life” website has pointed out, no-one is really sure of the numbers, mainly because “On British Government documentation, “Latin American” is not given as an ethnic group”, so anyone from that part of the world filling in a form has to tick the box marked simply “Other”. In London, nevertheless, the “Latin American Recognition Campaign UK (LARC) has managed to persuade the local authorities in Southwark, Lambeth, Islington and Hackney to officially acknowledge the existence of the community, thereby “fostering its inclusion at all levels from access to services to political representation.

The latest estimate of the UK population by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) – reported in the Guardian on 23rd June – is 65,648,000, an addition of 538,000 over the previous year. London “accounts for a significant chunk of this increase” – indeed, as the London Evening Standard noted on 22nd June, the capital’s population has “surged to an all-time high of 8.8 million, with a growth rate of 1.3%, more than twice that of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the North of England”. According to the Daily Mail, “White Britons now constitute just 44.9% of London’s inhabitants, with more than 600,000 of them having “fled” the capital over the past decade to rural areas such as South Derbyshire, Mid Suffolk and South Norfolk.

In their place, “residents originally from India dominate ten of the capital’s 32 boroughs while Londoners born in Nigeria, Poland, Turkey and Bangladesh have the highest numbers in at least three areas each”. The Mail has produced a map showing where the different ethnic groups are concentrated: For instance Haringey and Hackney (Turkish), Bromley (Indian), Merton (Polish), Kensington & Chelsea (French), Wandsworth (South African), Lambeth (Jamaican).

This map, however, makes no reference at all to the Latin American community – despite the fact that (as Queen Mary University of London has pointed out in its survey titled “Towards Visibility”) “it is one of the fastest growing migrant populations in the capital, with two-thirds having arrived since 2000”. The survey calculates that there are around 250,000 Latin Americans in the UK, of which 145,000 live in London, especially in Lambeth, Southwark, Newham, Haringey, Westminster, Brent and Barnet.”Brazilians are the largest national group, followed by Colombians, Ecuadorians, Argentinians, Venezuelans, Mexicans, Peruvians. Chileans and Bolivians”.

The Independent journalist, Sarah Morrison, in an article captioned “Caramba! Latin America Takes A Hold On London”, has quoted the Mexican Chef, Fernando Stovell (who has appeared on the BBC’s “Saturday Kitchen”), as pointing out that “People are starting to interact with what Latin American culture is all about: We tend to be very happy – maybe that’s what they want to discover”. Morrison has highlighted the fact that “the community’s cultural presence can be felt all over the capital. There are now Latin American music, film and dance festivals, as well as an abundance of Latin clubs, eateries and art exhibitions”.

It is this Latin American “spirit” that the three Brazilian founders of “Comida Fest – Alicia Bastos, Simone Ruotolo and Gizane Campos – believe they can capture and build upon. Last year (the first), it took place in just one location, on the South Bank behind the ITV studios. This year, they are being even more ambitious, holding it in three different parts of London during the summer “to promote the brand”: In Greenwich (Cutty Sark Gardens, 8th & 9th July), Potters Field Park (Southwest of Tower Bridge, 12th & 13th August) and Bishops Park (Putney Bridge, Fulham, 16th & 17th September). Although “some people will come to all three events”, they acknowledge that Greenwich is a bit far for many who live elsewhere in London and expect the largest crowd to be at Potters Fields Park. They are anticipating an attendance of around 50,000 over the six days, though are well aware that this will depend on the weather and what else is happening on those dates.

In their advance publicity, they describe Comida Fest as “the newest trend in the London street food scene”. In addition to the “experienced traders showcasing the diversity and uniqueness of Latin American countries” by providing “delicious food and drink”, the three events will also offer “ a rich cultural programme with dance, music, literature,special performances and workshops for adults and kids”. No-one else, they say, has attempted what they are now doing. Yes, there are different Venezuelan and Argentinian food traders, but Comida Fest “is putting it all together”. There will be no “repeat menu” – in other words, only one stall selling, for example, arepas or tapas, so “ you can come to all six days and have a wide range of different food”.

The organisers accept that the logistics involved in this enterprise are formidable and that they have to prove that they can make a success of it. There’s no funding from the Arts Council or the Lottery, so they have to raise around £140,000 to cover the cost of issues such as Health & Safety, Insurance, Security and musical entertainment” as well as dealing with the owners (local council, landlord, trustees) of the spaces they are using. When you don’t have money, you have to shrink your budget and maximize your income” , which is why it’s not cheap for traders to participate.

The three girls know full well that they are taking financial risks and quote a Brazilian proverb proclaiming “You have to dance according to the music”, but are convinced they are creating something worthwhile. They are amused by the fact that they are already perceived as millionaires and are being asked to sponsor or fund other activities. Their real situation, though, “is quite the opposite”. They will welcome anyone who wants to take part with open arms: “Get in touch. We need volunteers. Come along”.

Filed under: Immigration & Visas, Music & Dance | Posted on June 29th, 2017 by Colin D Gordon

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