Rain didn’t dampen the spirits of dozens of people who came out to enjoy the final installment of Centralia’s newly restarted Music in the Park series Saturday night.
Under a slight but constant drizzle, youngsters hula hooped and ran through a stream of bubbles. As the Centralia band Carnales de Tierra Calientes played, occasionally encouraging the crowd to “bailar, bailar.” And nearby members of Life Center church lifted spirits and temperatures with cocoa and coffee and Tacos El Ray offered a menu of tempting treats.
Surveying it all, event organizer Maritza Lopez, one of the newest members of the Centralia Downtown Association board said the event was exactly the fiesta she had envisioned.
“It’s been really terrific,” Lopez said of the summer series. “The community response has been great. I hope to keep doing this for as many years as they will let me.”
The City of Centralia had sponsored Music in the Park each summer for several seasons but decided to discontinue the event after the summer of 2017. Tory Graff, vice president of the Centralia Downtown Association explained that when Lopez joined the CDA board this year, she immediately took on the task of bringing Music in the Park back to Centralia this year.
“If not for her, this would not be happening,” Graff said of Lopez.
Saturday night’s Music in the Park was particularly poignant for Lopez because besides being the end to a successful first season, the event had a tie to Mexican Independence Day, which was Monday. Lopez joined the CDA board after meeting members of the group at a rally for immigrants’ rights in downtown Centralia. The daughter of Antonio and Etelvina Lopez, who own Tacos El Ray, Lopez grew up in Centralia and sees her role on the board as helping to foster a better connection between Centralians of Latino heritage and Centralians of non-Latino heritages.
“I think my biggest thing is to incorporate more Latino things into the CDA,” Lopez said. “Like when we make a pamphlet, I say ‘why not make it in Spanish, too?’”
Centralia College has an upcoming Mexican Independence Day event on Sept. 21. Lopez said she had hoped to pair that with the Music in the Park series but it didn’t work out this year. She said in the future, she would like to explore such a partnership. Overall, though, she said more events celebrating the area’s large Hispanic population are a great way to build connections.
“We just want everyone to be united,” Lopez said. “We don’t want people to feel uncomfortable. We want them to get to know us. We’re really nice people.”
Teri Zambon, executive director for the CDA said the group felt the concert series as a whole was a success, with each one gathering more people. At the August concert, about 400 people were present at one point, she added. The CDA intends to bring back Music in the Park back and hopefully expand it to add some more dates, next year, Graff added.
Over the past few years, the CDA has largely gotten out of hosting events, focusing primarily on economic vitality for the downtown, Zambon said. However, Zambon said Music in the Park has been a good project for CDA to undertake and she wants to see it continue to happen. Downtown revitalization is about creating events that will bring in visitors and efforts that attract residents to come downtown, she said. A strong downtown can foster a sense of community unity and pride that makes a city as a whole more livable.
“Building a better downtown is not just about downtown, it’s about the whole city,” Zambon said.