A few years ago, while passing the El Paso restaurant on his way home, Luis Mora heard the music playing. He stopped, followed the music and found a mariachi band.
“What time do you all end up here?” Mora asked.
Nine, they told him.
“What is he going to do next?” Mora said. “Why don’t you come to my house?”
He had many families in his house. He lined them up and told them to get out.
“All the Latinos that were listening, they also came here to listen,” Mora said.
Mora, 84, has been bringing Latin music into the home for years. He started ACLA – Asociación Cultural Latino Acadiana – in 2000 and the Latin Music Festival in 2002.
After a two-year hiatus, Asociación Cultural Latino-Acadiana, ACLA and Festival International de Louisiane will bring back the music festival on October 1 at Parc International. The event celebrates Latino culture. Attendees can experience the culture through authentic food, music, art vendors, children’s activities and more.
Mora started the Asociación Cultural Latino Acadiana because he is passionate about preserving Hispanic and Latino culture and helping these communities.
Mora, originally from Columbia, learned English in Vermont and began his education in Florida at Miami Dade College. In 1964, his father sent him to study architecture at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where he had previously visited his brother’s friends, because he wanted him to focus on his education.
At the time, UL had about 700 Latinos from Central America, Venezuela and Colombia, according to Mora. The Latino population has grown rapidly and is still growing.
Lafayette was different then. You can walk into a restaurant and pay with blank checks, according to Mora. The oil industry is booming.
“This is a great place to live, but it’s still changed a lot,” Mora said. “We’ve grown a lot.”
After graduation, Mora worked for Starline in department store skyscrapers, Lee Packard in metal buildings, then worked for an engineering company that went out of business. He also met and married his wife in Lafayette.
“By sheer luck” Mora landed at Exxon, where he worked for 35 years.
“I was very lucky because the whole field was growing and they had a lot of opportunities,” Mora said.
After Mora retired from Exxon, he was invited to join the board of Festival International. There, Mora recalls meeting a lawyer who had recently discovered that he had Spanish roots. However, the lawyer grew up thinking he was French all his life.
“I feel sad [for him]”, Mora said. “He had lost not only the language, he had lost most of the Spanish culture.”
This conversation, along with his work on the board of Festival International, led Mora to start the Latin Music Festival. The festival began as a volunteer-run event to help raise funds for ACLA. Eventually the city recognized the festival and in 2019 they started working in collaboration with Festival International, who helped with the planning.
“It takes time, dedication and a lot of volunteers in the beginning,” said Jasmine Carrizal, ACLA past president and current volunteer. “All the years that Luis has spent trying and making it grow, that now it’s part of the city. Through his persistence and belief in everything he has to go on. To continue to be able to incorporate culture in a beautiful way through dance and food and now they are sponsors.”
Mora specifically chose the date for the festival — the first Saturday in October — to fall during Hispanic Heritage Month, which begins Sept. 15 and ends Oct. 15. September 15 is an important date because it marks the day of independence for some Latin American countries.
The festival was canceled the last two years due to COVID. One year it rained seven times. In the past they have had both new and old performers. Some of the performers included a 7-year-old dancer and a young Cuban singer.
“If you’re brave enough, we’ll let you try,” Mora said.
In addition to hosting the Latin Music Festival, ACLA does community work such as volunteering with Second Harvest, organizing consulate trips to New Orleans, working with the Lafayette Parish School System and their Spanish immersion programs, and community outreach about the COVID vaccine .
“He’s always trying to do things for the Hispanic community and trying to establish the Hispanic community [on] radar and to highlight the heritage that sometimes people don’t understand,” said ACLA volunteer and former board member Vanessa Paredes.
When he formed ACLA, Mora brought together professionals from diverse backgrounds, including teachers, architects and real estate people to serve on the board of associates.
Carrizal, a former teacher and former ACLA board member and president, met Mora at church through mutual friends. She worked with him at many events and despite the stress of scheduling, said he never raised his voice. He is humble, patient and never thinks twice before helping, she said.
Paredes volunteers with ACLA now, but was involved with ACLA professionally for nine years. She helped raise money, worked on many campaigns and contributed to ACLA’s efforts to educate the community. Mora started a food drive during COVID, she adds.
Mora has long been a supporter of Lafayette’s Spanish immersion program. Although he thinks it is important to learn the language, he was unable to maintain it with his children. Of his three children, only one learned Spanish. He blames geography.
“What we didn’t want was for them to lose that language or their culture and all that,” Mora said. “You have to be comfortable on both sides. Because I made that mistake in mine.”