Hispanic Heritage Month, Oakland Mills High School Credit: Hispanic Committee

Click here to read this story in Spanish.

For the Latino community, September marks the celebration of  Hispanic Heritage Month, which recognizes Hispanic culture and history in the U.S. This commemoration begins with Central American Independence Day on Sept. 15. Montgomery County’s residents are preparing for it, displaying traditions from their home countries with music, food, and festivities.

Robert Girón, 66, born in Quetzaltenango, one of the most impoverished areas of Southern Guatemala, immigrated to Silver Spring when he was 23.

Missing aspects of his native country from the Mam Mayan language spoken in his village to his hometown’s music, Girón decided to fulfill his lifelong dream of learning how to play the marimba. Resembling a xylophone, the marimba is a Guatemalan musical instrument made of wood.

“With the help of my mother, who was still in Guatemala, I decided to bring a marimba to Silver Spring, and I started learning to play it at 24,” he said in Spanish.

In 1996, he founded the musical group Marimba Linda Xelajú, a family project where his two daughters Jennifer Flores, 40, and Beverly Bonilla, 30, and his son, Robert Girón Jr.,23, are also involved as marimba players.


“I’m proud to know that my children are part of this tradition where we can show people living in the DMV area how culturally rich our country is,” Girón said. “Now, even my grandchildren are learning how to play the marimba and plan to join the band in a couple of years.”

Over the years, Marimba Linda Xelajú has participated in events at the Sandy Spring Museum, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Library of Congress and the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

This year, Marimba Linda Xelajú performed at the Saint Bernard Catholic Church on Sept. 9, in an event organized by the consulate of Guatemala in Silver Spring to commemorate the Central American Independence Day.


“We have succeeded in connecting with the audience here, and one of the best sensations is witnessing Guatemalans shed tears during our shows because they remember the beauty of the country with our performance,” Girón said.

Joseph Maradiaga, 44, another Central American living in Silver Spring from Monjarás, Honduras, has organized the annual “Festival Catracho” event for the past eight years in which he states that approximately 200 to 300 people participate.

The festival, which commemorates the independence of Honduras, will take place Sunday in Burtonsville.


“We are the only multicultural festival that celebrates the culture of Honduras in Maryland and brings the Honduran folklore, a traditional dance that highlights elements such as legends, music, clothing, food, ethnic groups, and other cultural representations from my country,” he said in Spanish.

During the festival, women dress in long traditional colorful costumes as men wearing big hats dance to famous songs like Indio Lempira, Candú, and Mi Tierra es Honduras (My land is Honduras).

“When I realized how big the Honduran community was in Montgomery County, I realized that I had to do something for my people because otherwise, it was a pity,” Maradiaga said. “So that’s how the Festival Catracho started, and I’m delighted it was such a success.”


A group of Montgomery County women with children studying at Oakland Mills High School in Columbia, formed a Hispanic committee in August 2019 to celebrate both the Central American Independence Day and the Hispanic Heritage Month at the end of September.

Teenagers dancing at the Oakland Mills High School Credit: Hispanic Committee

This year’s gala takes place on Sept. 22 at the Oakland Mills High School’s cafeteria, and 150 to 200 attendees are expected.

“Certainly, the Central American community has grown significantly in the area over the past 15 to 20 years,” said committee chair Silvia Bravo, 52, in Spanish. “For this reason, promoting our culture, traditions, and history is essential to us. At the event, we have all kinds of vendors with traditional food and antojitos [snacks] from our countries.”


Bravo said some of the most popular foods offered during the event are the Salvadoran pupusas, thick handmade corn tortillas filled with beans, cheese or pork. “Both parents and teenagers like to come to the party to enjoy delicious pupusas and combine them with food from other countries, enjoying the music and dancing to traditional dances,” Bravo said. “We work hard as volunteers, and we do it because we know there’s value in it. Celebrating the Hispanic community for countless families yearly gives us a sense of pride.”