PUBLISHED: 4:53 PM on Wednesday, June 6, 2007
Juneau Hispanic Association shares culture with community
When Dr. Norvin Perez moved to Juneau eight months ago, he hoped to meet other Hispanic people in the community. Finding that there was no central place or organization designed to encourage this interaction, he decided to start the Juneau Hispanic Association.

"The Juneau Hispanic Association has three missions," Dr. Perez said.

"First, it provides a place where Hispanic people can get to know each other. Second, it enables us to let people in the community know who we are. And third, it provides us an opportunity to be able to help our own community through charitable work."

Photo by Amanda Gragert
  Members of the Mexican Folkloric Dance Ensemble of Juneau performed April 28, at the Tlingit and Haida Community Building during Children's Day, which was sponsored by the Juneau Hispanic Association.
According to Dr. Perez, about one percent of Juneau's population is Hispanic.

"People here have roots from all over Latin America, including Puerto Rico, Colombia, Uruguay, Cuba, Mexico and Brazil," he said.

"Some of these people have been established in Alaska for a long time; some make up the professional minority, and others are part of a large, working-class majority."

Despite their numbers, Dr. Perez said he believes that it is more difficult for Hispanic people to meet each other in the capital city because of the area's geography.

"There is a lot more distance between neighbors here; it is less crowded, so there is less chance of meeting your neighbors and saying 'hi,'" said Dr. Perez, who moved to Juneau from New York and now owns Juneau Urgent Care.

In order to bring the Hispanic community together, the Juneau Hispanic Association holds several yearly events designed to promote this interaction and to provide an opportunity for the community to promote its culture.

"The first event we held was a Hispanic Christmas at Marlintini's," Dr. Perez said. "More than 220 people showed up. Word spread pretty fast about the party, and a lot of people jumped in and worked very hard to make it happen."

The Juneau Hispanic Association also held a conference featuring an immigration lawyer and a conference on nutrition. They most recently celebrated Children's Day with a celebration on April 28 at the Tlingit & Haida Community Building.

"I think what was most surprising about our Children's Day celebration was how many non-Hispanic people came," said Dr. Perez of the event that attracted more than 500 people. "Half of the volunteers who helped out were not Hispanic, and that was something I was really happy to see.

"This is a small community, and it would be wonderful to continue to grow together and to become closer to each other," he said.

"We want to be able to share our culture with the rest of Juneau and to add a little more international flavor to the city."

One way in which the Juneau Hispanic Association is doing this is by sponsoring a Mexican Folkloric Dance Ensemble for children ages 12-15.

"We want to provide Hispanic children with a chance to learn the roots and customs of their parents' country of origin," Dr. Perez said. "We want them to understand what's good about being different, and to feel proud."

The dance troupe, which is open to children of all backgrounds, currently has 10 members who are expanding their repertoire to include salsa, merengue and cumbia.

"Their name is really getting around," said Dr. Perez of the group which most recently performed for Cinco de Mayo. "They're really keeping busy."

Upcoming events for the Juneau Hispanic Association include working on a float for the Fourth of July Parade, and hosting Javier Guzman, a Spanish ballad singer from Colombia, at Marlintini's on the last weekend in June.

"Because of the success of our Children's Day celebration, we've decided to hold the event in Centennial Hall next year and hold a gala dinner afterwards to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

"We were surprised, and very happy, to see the level of participation from the community this year, and we want to keep that relationship going," he added. "We want to become a community asset."