By Don Bolding

Killeen Daily Herald

Taking the number of vendors as an indicator, Killeen's annual Hispanic Heritage Festival has grown fourfold since its beginning four years ago.

Julia Villaronga, wife of chairman Raul Villaronga of the organizing Council 4535 of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said the first festival drew 10 exhibitors. The approximately 40 vendors Saturday in the parking lot of the Killeen Community Center may have had the same mix of restaurants, artists, jewelers and others, but they were prepared to serve thousands. The council would later prepare an official count for the city because the festival is partly funded by municipal hotel and motel tax revenues as an arts and tourism promotional event. LULAC is eligible for city assistance through its nonprofit status.

"Killeen doesn't have an indoor place big enough to hold us," said Raul Villaronga, sweeping his arm toward a classic car show and motorcycle show and booths ringing the entire field. "We just have to have the cooperation of the weather. We had to postpone this event for a week because of last week's rains, but it doesn't look like that's hurt us."

He emphasized volunteer support supplied by the Killeen Wal-Mart. "They always help us, and they're a great benefit to us," he said.

The LULAC council is also planning a Christmas event and sponsors another annual celebration for Cinco de Mayo. The September event celebrates the nationwide Hispanic Heritage Month, which grew to a month-long observance in 1988 after Congress authorized President Lyndon B. Johnson to proclaim National Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968 to observe the Mexican independence holiday Diez y Seis de Septiembre, Sept. 16, the date of Mexico's break from Spanish colonial rule in 1810.

On a shaded stage at noon, Killeen Mayor Tim Hancock read a proclamation signed this week officially honoring Hispanic Heritage Day in the city, and LULAC officials will appear at the City Council meeting Tuesday for a formal resolution, Villaronga said.

"I don't speak a word of Spanish," Hancock said, "but I don't have to understand the words to appreciate the music that appeals straight to the heart." Dozens of musical and dance companies were performing on the stage all day.

The resolution notes that Hispanic culture started growing in the New World long before any other Europeans set foot in the Americas. It praises the Hispanic presence for enriching the cultural life of Central Texas and adding many nationalities to the population.

Event chairperson Analuisa Tapia presented special guests Miss Killeen Ramias Flemons and Cinco de Mayo Queen Brianna Kandler.

While Sept. 16 is Mexican independence day, Cinco de Mayo celebrates the victory of Mexican forces over French invaders at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.

Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates American influence on the cultures of all Spanish-speaking regions in the Western Hemisphere from Mexico to Argentina and the Caribbean islands including the United States territory of Puerto Rico. It starts on Sept. 15 because that's the independence day of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mexico declared independence the following day, and Chile followed suit on Sept. 19.

Contact Don Bolding at or (254) 501-7557.

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