ENMU’s Festival Romanico celebrating silver anniversary

By Helena Rodriguez

Festival Romanico at Eastern New Mexico University has become a festival of the arts in Spanish and will mark its silver anniversary when the annual event is held on the ENMU campus on Friday.

Hundreds of high school students from Eastern New Mexico and West Texas will once again participate in this “celebration of language and culture” as festival director Dr. Vitelio Contreras calls it.

Festival Romanico was started 25 years ago by former ENMU professor of French, Dr. Margaret Willen, as a day dedicated to the romance languages of French and Spanish. Although French students no longer participate, competitions are still held for both non-native and native speakers to showcase the Spanish language. Fine arts competitions are held in poetry, art, videos and writing. There’s also a talent contest and the festival concludes with an awards ceremony and a Spanish music dance.

“We expect anywhere from 350 to 600 students and about 35 to 40 percent of them are probably non-native Spanish speakers,” said Contreras, who has been in charge of Festival Romanico for eight years now.

“The founder of the festival, Margaret Willen, who was my mentor, told me the spirit of the festival is a celebration of the languages,” Contreras continued. “My idea is for kids to have fun and enjoy themselves here while speaking the romance languages.”

Contreras is working to keep the festival true to its original purpose and said he and other organizers also hope to expand the reach of the event next year by inviting more schools from outside the immediate area, within a two to three hour driving range. Currently, students attend from Lovington, Carlsbad and other nearby towns participate, as well as from West Texas, which Contreras said has been coming in big numbers over the past few years.

Dr. Mary Ayala, assistant dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and also a Spanish professor, said, “We are hoping to expand Festival Romanico to include schools beyond those that have traditionally participated in the past 25 years. The region is growing and many of our former students are now Spanish teachers in outlying school districts. We’d certainly like to include them in the Eastern legacy of Festival Romanico.”

At the festival, students will showcase original artwork, from hand-painted churches to piñatas. Students will also perform humorous skits and read poetry and prose by some of the big names in Latin literature such as Ruben Dario and Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda.

Contreras said he hopes to add a new competition next year in which students will be judged on Spanish Web sites that they create.

Festival Romanico will run from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at ENMU, with most events taking place in the Becky Sharp Auditorium of the College of Business and in the Campus Union Building.