HOLA Lakeway Food Fest Showcases Cultures in Eastern TN

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MORRISTOWN, Tenn. (WATE) – The annual HOLA Lakeway International Food Festival brought not only different foods and products from around the world, but also entertainment and connections, to East Tennessee.

The event took place Saturday near historic downtown Morristown in the Morristown Farmers’ Market district, where hundreds of people enjoyed the festivities in the late summer heat. HOLA Lakeway officials say it was their biggest event yet with dozens of vendors and performers.

“One of our goals as Hola Lakeway is to integrate the immigrant community into the fabric of the community as a whole,” said Willie Santana, board member and co-founder of HOLA Lakeway. “That in itself is a big part of the goal, but nothing brings people together like food. So that was one of the ideas behind the festival. We bring people around something that is natural, to build community – and it’s growing every year.

The Hispanic Outreach Leadership Association of the Lakeway Area – now known as “HOLA Lakeway” was formed in 2014 by the Latino Task Force of Morristown, the Latino Task Force of Knoxville and the Community Economic Development Network of East Tennessee. In 2015, the group launched the International Food Festival to bring people from different countries to the table – literally and figuratively – around food and the sharing of cultures.

Since then, the festival has grown into a much larger event and has undergone some venue changes to allow festival-goers to enjoy more space and activities. This year there were 74 suppliers representing 18 different countries: United States, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Puerto Rico, Ukraine, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, Pakistan, India, Micronesia and African countries.

“At the time, we had no budget, we couldn’t pay for the venue up front, and it was all put together with a lot of blood, sweat and tears, and it grew every year by exponentially,” Santana said. “It’s been fantastic.”

There were 14 festival performers who ranged from presenting Scottish bagpipes to traditional bailes from Mexico; as well as clog dancers from Tennessee, traditional Bollywood dances from India, tango dances, West African drumming and local pop-soul singer Brady Turner.

One facet festival organizers incorporated into the entertainment lineup intentionally began with a highland bagpipe performance by Dustin Hatfield to honor the early immigrants here. When Hatfield was introduced, Santana told the crowd in English and Spanish that the Scots and Irish were the first immigrants to arrive in the East Tennessee and Lakeway area.

Hamblen County today is home to a diverse population. 2020 U.S. Census Bureau data indicates that 14.7% of Hamblen County’s population identifies as Hispanic/Latino contributing to the local economy, and there are others from around the world contributing their cultures. and their contributions to the region.

“This event is important to Morristown because it is an example of how we blend our immigrant community, their cultures and traditions and enrich the fabric of our town,” said Gary Chesney, Mayor of Morristown. “It’s the seventh year, it’s very crowded, as you can see, it’s a one-day event around food, dance and music, and it’s a cultural reinforcement of Morristown and we are thrilled and proud of how the Hola community has grown.

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