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Diversity of Latin American cuisines, and cultures, highlighted by Que Pasa Festival's Retaurante Week

People mill about
People enjoy a previous Que Pasa Festival, when festivities were held in person. (Photo courtesy of Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce)

The annual Que Pasa Festival is being held online again to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.

This is the second time the month-long festival has been virtual as organizers cite high COVID-19 numbers preventing in-person gathering throughout the pandemic.

Organizers say adapting the festival into an online format has made it accessible to more people.

“For the hispanic community, it’s a way to share their culture,'' said Michael Zajur, CEO of organizing group the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “The hispanic community is very diverse. You have 23 Latin American communities as a part of this community. They get to show their individual cultures. It’s not the hispanic culture, it’s the Puerto Rican, Mexican culture. It’s a great opportunity.”

Organizers tried to inject as much of the spirit of the in-person festival into the online version: videos of chefs making traditional dishes, dance demonstrations, authors reading children's books in Spanish and more. They’ve also introduced a new event, Restaurante Week, running from Oct. 11 to Oct 17, to support local restaurants. 

While the festival is always intended to celebrate Hispanic heritage, the chamber traditionally holds the event in May, outside of Hispanic Heritage Month. Organizers first decided to host an online version during Hispanic Heritage Month in 2020, when the pandemic caused them to cancel their in-person festival.

The success of the online version has convinced organizers to expand their online offerings. After the pandemic ends they plan to change the current domain into a site  for Hispanic Heritage Month information and activities.

“We really want to make the website as interactive as possible so it really looks like you’re at a festival,” Zajur said. “Of course we need to upgrade and have the technology to build it the way we were going to, but it just takes time. The first two years we greatly improved it from last year and we will keep on improving it.”

They hope to be able to host an in-person Que Pasa festival in May 2022, and plan to extend the accessibility of the in-person festival by streaming live music performances and more on the website for those who can’t make it.

And on Oct. 20, after the heritage month ends,  the Virginia Hispanic Chamber will continue to celebrate with an in-person gala fundraiser. Guests will have the opportunity to enjoy food and performances, and meet leaders of the chamber, at Dover Hall Estate.

Zajur said this event will be in-person because they can control the number of attendees,  and health and safety requirements are more manageable at a limited event, versus a festival hosting thousands of people.

Tickets are available on the chamber website for the event. To learn more about the festival or participate, visit quepasafestival.com