Berkshire Latino Festival founder seeks to create Latin arts center

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

Born in Cali, Colombia, Ortiz-Bermudez came to the United States to get her master’s degree in 1988. She moved to Berkshire in 1990 when a family member persuaded her.

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

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

“We went to American festivals, the summer festival, the Apple Squeeze. Then I started thinking about how to create a festival that would impact Americans,” Ortiz-Bermudez told the Berkshire Eagle.

She diligently tracked attendees’ addresses and delivered brightly colored envelopes to advertise the festival, earning her a reputation as “the Latin festival woman.”

She, in turn, received questions about her life as a Latino immigrant and became someone new immigrants could talk to through the festival.

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

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

Despite her efforts, Ortiz-Bermudez was unable to pursue a career in community engagement, suspecting that her Spanish accent subjected her to biased decisions.

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

Berkshire’s Latino population has grown steadily since that first festival, reaching 5,000 members of a community to which Ortiz-Bermudez seeks to provide culture and art.

After 27 years of festivals, she looks to the future of the Latino community and another goal she hasn’t achieved: a Latin American center for the arts.

Ortiz-Bermudez knows that all-volunteer projects aren’t easy to sustain, and the festival she started can end with her.

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

“I would like to leave a legacy. If I die, those who are there help me to die too, and [if] others get tired, the Latino Festival will die. It will just 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 that we can keep our culture alive. We will leave proof of the best that we have brought in our hearts,” she continued.