UNION, NJ — Union celebrated its first annual Hispanic Heritage Month celebration on Oct. 12, with Hispanic arts and culture on colorful display in front of Union Town Hall.
Residents came out to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the Hispanic heritage that has come to play an integral and celebrated role in the township.
The event featured a keynote address given by Union County Freeholder Angel Estrada, the presentation of the Hispano of the Year Award to Angel Cartagena of Batteries Plus Bulbs and the recognition of Hispanics Organized for People’s Empowerment, a burgeoning Hispanic organization in Union.
The celebration also featured music and dance, including Legacy Women, an all-women drum, song and dance troupe, playing Afro-Caribbean bomba music, the Salsa Fever On2 Dance Academy performing a salsa routine, world champion Peruvian dancers Alizon and Lucero Lopez, who performed “Huayno” and “Danza de la Selva,” and David Lopez and Alex Maldonado, who performed “Marinera de la Costa.”
The Empanada Guy, along with other food vendors, were on hand to serve authentic Latino cuisine.
Estrada told LocalSource that he considers himself to be an advocate for the community, saying, “Throughout my public career of over 20 years, I have considered myself as an advocate of all communities, including the Hispanic community. I’m very proud to be the first freeholder of Union County of Hispanic descent to be elected.
“Hispanics in general have a lot to celebrate on this special month,” Estrada said. “Only in this country could a simple person like me reach these heights in government. The township of Union has opened their arms to Hispanics and has allowed for us to flourish, which makes Union a very special place. I believe it is important to reflect on the contributions of many.”
Estrada also noted the contributions Hispanics have made to Union’s business sector.
“As you know, we are recognizing Mr. Angel Cartagena as a very good example of that, and many others,” he said, referring to the Hispano of the Year Award recipient.
Cartagena told LocalSource he was happily surprised when he was informed of the honor, saying in an email, “I was surprised to learn of this honored being bestowed on me. I am very grateful to have been selected, especially as the first recipient.”
Cartagena, who owns a business in the township, serves as the current president of the Union Township Chamber of Commerce, and formerly worked as the vice president of finance for the Boys and Girls club of Union County for six years. He said the Hispanic Heritage Month event brings the diverse community of Union together.
“It unites the town and brings out the different cultures within our community,” he said. “It’s all about giving back to your community. The community supports my business, so it’s only right that I support the community right back. I do this by donating my time and money to help community programs and causes.”
Cartagena pointed out that an event celebrating diversity is needed now, more than ever.
“Considering what’s happening in America today, the township of Union leads by example in unifying its residents. Events like Unity Day, the Mayor’s Weekend and this Hispanic Day celebration help to bring the town together,” he said.