By Colleen Flaherty

Killeen Daily Herald

When Elena Garcia opened her first beauty salon in Killeen in 1960, most of her clients knew nothing about her native Puerto Rico.

"They asked me a lot of questions," said Garcia, now 91. "I said, 'We have to say something to these people about our culture."

That something eventually became the Socieded Cultural Hispanoamericana, which held its annual musical celebration Sunday at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center.

Established in 1975 by Garcia, the nonprofit organization seeks to promote the arts and culture of greater Killeen's diverse Hispanic population through events such as Sunday's Festival del Cuatro Puertorriqueño.

Each year, she said, the society highlights one aspect of one culture for its celebration.

This year, the society chose the four-string Puerto Rican guitar, called a "cuatro."

Reyna Martinez is the organization's current president.

"We help bridge cultural obstacles through affordable cultural events like this one today," said Martinez, who was born in Puerto Rico and lives in Harker Heights.

The society has more than 100 active members from nations including Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua and Peru, according to Garcia.

Several hundred people attended Sunday's festival, including members of Latin American cultural groups from Dallas and San Antonio.

Musicians, including cuatro players and Puerto Rican singer Olga Morales Ramos, played and sang on the palm-tree laden stage, while dance groups Puerto Rican Kids Folklore and Estrellas de Panama entertained the crowd with their traditional Latin American choreography and costumes.

Some women wore traditional long skirts and white blouses, while many men wore light Panama hats and light guayabera shirts.

Estrellas de Panama, or "stars of Panama" member Dilsa Swift traveled all the way to her native Panama to buy her costume, she said, awaiting her performance in a long blue and white dress, called a "pollera," accented by golden coin jewelry and beautiful pearly headpieces, called "tembleques."

"Every culture has its own dance, its own way of being," said Swift, who has lived in Killeen for 37 years.

Killeen Mayor Timothy Hancock attended the event, and thanked the society for what it has contributed to the community over the years.

"Each year the performance you put on is a testament to our city," he said. "It shows the real diversity of our city."

Contact Colleen Flaherty at or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHfeatures.

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