The brightly colored flags of Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua - the seven Latin American countries celebrating their Independence Day this month - decorated the Police and Firefighters Memorial Plaza in front of City Hall in Atlantic City on Sept. 18 as the resort kicked off Hispanic Heritage Month with a celebration of music, dance and tributes.

The annual event was presented by La Casa Dominicana, the city of Atlantic City, Azteca Organization and Atlantic City Free Public Library.

Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated nationally from mid-September to mid-October and pays tribute to Hispanic Americans and their contributions to this country, said Esmeralda Vizcaino, the out-going president of La Casa Dominicana.

La Casa Dominicana has partnered with the city and local organizations for the past five years to coordinate the celebration, Vizcaino said. The event was free and open to the community.

A chorus of "Viva Mexico!" filled the air as the enthusiastic crowd welcomed Carlos Espinal as master of ceremonies and paid tribute to the Hispanic countries with the "Song of the Americas."

Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford was among the special guests who addressed the gathering and read a proclamation declaring Sept. 15-Oct. 15 as "Hispanic Heritage Month" in the resort.

About 25 percent, or about 10,000 residents of the resort are of Hispanic descent, Langford said, adding that it is important to recognize all the cultures that make Atlantic City "the great melting pot that it is" and that such celebrations are important to "honor the contributions and achievements of the Hispanic community."

Langford presented a copy of the proclamation to the representative from the Philadelphia-based office of the Consulate of Mexico.

Miss Atlantic City 2013 Tianna Cannon was introduced to the crowd, as was Miss La Casa Dominicana. Vizcaino said the young women are role models for the youth in the community.

"We want to show our young girls, 'S�, se puede,' this is what you can achieve. Be proud," Vizcaino said.

Romero Lopez was one of the observers enjoying the music and the pageantry. Originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, he said he has lived in Pleasantville for the past 20 years and came to the event to see his niece and nephew dance.

"I think this is something very good for the community. It's important for the adults to remember their culture and for the children to be a part of it," he said.

Zenaida Aguilar was another Pleasantville resident attending the event for the first time.

"I think this is very moving, I'm glad I came," Aguilar said, holding her 2-year-old daughter Camila in her arms while waiting for her daughter to perform.

"La Danza Azteca" - The Azteca Children's Ballet troupe - performed cultural dances in colorful, traditional costumes.

Leslie Sanchez, 11, of Pleasantville, said she has been dancing with Azteca Children's Ballet for four years.

"I like doing the dances because it makes me feel proud of my heritage," she said while waiting between performances.

Tiffany Aguilar, another dance member, said she and her "best friend" Rodrigo Lopez, also 11 years old and both from Pleasantville, just started cultural dancing this past year.

"I like my culture, it's important to me. I think the dances are beautiful," she said.

Her friend agreed. "I really like doing this," Rodrigo said. "It makes you feel part of something to be proud of."

The ceremony included the announcement of Evelyn Sabanbo, of Catholic Charities of Atlantic City and Camden, as the Hispanic Person of the Year. Accepting on her behalf was Atlantic City resident Gisela Castillo.

Luis Rodriguez, the newly installed president of La Casa Dominicana, said the group plans to continue the annual celebration and would like to see it grow even more.

In addition to the music and entertainment, the event featured a variety of food samples and brightly decorated cakes.

The event also kicked off a monthlong cultural art display in the lobby at City Hall highlighting the works of area residents.

Contact Lucia C. Drake:

609-272-7295